History of Wyoming/Printable version

History of Wyoming

The current, editable version of this book is available in Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection, at

Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.




Wyoming became the forty-fourth state admitted into the Union in 1890. However, to announce statehood in the year which Wyoming was inducted would be a significant misjudgment of its prolonged adversity, downfalls, and success. Culture was very defined throughout the state. Wyoming is often known for it's bison, cowboys, and oil. Wyoming's capital city, as well as it's largest city, is Cheyenne with a population of around 60,000 people.

The State of Wyoming has been a excellent patriotic state by putting forth training bases for the First and Second World War and having a extremely large air force base called Francis E Warren AFB which has about 4000 regular members. This also serves as the base of the Auxiliary Air Command. The US Army has limited personal in that area because of the close proximity to other large military bases. Wyoming has had a excellent history in the USN (United States Navy)for being the namesake for three surface ships and one submarine all of which have served in conflicts around the world. The USS Wyoming (BB-32) served in the Second World War and was severely damaged several times but survived the war and was honourably decommissioned in 1947. The State of Wyoming kept the ship's flag and battleship markings and put them into their Museum (Carter Museum of Naval History). They also kept their items and the hull was scrapped in New York in 1947. The current namesake of the state is the submarine USS Wyoming (SSBN-742) which is an Ohio Class submarine. The captain of this submarine wears a cowboy hat with the cow markings of its home state. She was also the first to allow female officers aboard and trains new officers for their first rotation.

Much of the state's history revolves around it's well known nickname of the 'Cowboy State'. This name was coined due to its vast heritage of cattle, cowboys and various western traditions. Cowboys have often been over dramatized in various books, movies, and television shows. However, their duties were quite simple throughout the state. They were hired by ranchers to care for the cattle until they were ready for the market. Although these tasks may have been simple or mundane, they often meant long hard hours and were essential to the Wyoming economy.

Cowboy performing his daily duties

Cattle were not the only animals which aided the state of Wyoming. The introduction of the Spanish Horse was vital for 'hunter gatherers'. Spanish horses were replaced with agile horses. These animals also provided transportation which made daily activities easier which ultimately shaped the culture of Wyoming. It is important to note that a less prominent and less praised culture that occurred within Wyoming. During a ten year cattle depression throughout the state, vigilantes began to emerge through the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. These men would lynch those who were a threat or became an enemy. Little to no effort was made to punish these murderers. In addition to somewhat barbaric measures of murder, immigrant Americans also did not cooperate with Native American Indians. The Indian wars which lasted from the 1850s throughout the 1870s consisted of broken treaties, encroachment of land, and conflicting hunting grounds. These events did not prove to be proud moments of Wyoming history, however remained to shape that state as it is viewed today.

Bison - Wyoming Native Animal
Wyoming State Flag

The way in which Wyoming is represented in the modern era and throughout history is depicted through the Wyoming state flag which was adopted in 1917. The flag illustrates a tremendous amount of detail. The flag depicts a bison which became a prominent animal throughout Wyoming. There are two males and a pillar which read, "oil", "mining", "livestock", and "grain". These four words are the pinnacle of Wyoming's history as each aspect contributed to the success and downfall of the state. Finally, there is a woman holding a scroll that reads "equal rights". In 1860, women had comprised of only one sixth of the population, however women's suffrage was a very significant topic within the state. In 1869, Wyoming passed their women's suffrage bill and proved to be a pioneer and innovator for women's rights across the United States.

Wyoming has served to be an exemplary state for The United States. The progression of women's rights, contribution to the economy, and it's proud American history, are all attributes that comprise the Cowboy State. The patriotic heritage continues into modern era, and the state's citizens act accordingly.

Overall, the state of Wyoming has a very fascinating and significant past. Wyoming has the reputation of being associated as the "Cowboy States" and with this label it will forever have an impact on the United States of America.

The Old West


The notion of "The Old West" derives itself from the Western portion of the United States. In particular, the state of Wyoming carries many of the cultural attributes associated with the cliché of "The Old West". The state of Wyoming became known throughout American pioneer history as a place of trade. Europeans, in search of fur pelts, took an active interest in the development of the land. The fur trade provided a foundation upon which other trade would soon develop throughout the region. Wyoming was also utilized as a trade route, primarily for the transportation of gold from Oregon to California. But the commercial activity that truly created the association of The Old West and Wyoming was cattle ranch productions.

Another contributing factor to the association with The Old West was the clash between the native cultures and the settler culture. These culture clashes often characterized towns of The Old West, and Wyoming was no exception. Due to the fact that Wyoming was such a vital trade route, natives, as well as bandits, were continuously creating ambushes on different various paths in an effort to try and obtain cargo that was being transported across the region. The constant robberies indirectly helped the expansion and development of the region because an increase of military presence was required which led in part to the further construction of villages and posts.

The increase in development was timely to match an increase in migrating workers and gold seekers to the area. The most important post was Fort Laramie as it not only played a role in accommodating a growing population in the area, but it also became a leading centre for the cattle industry. With the expansion of commerce and development in Wyoming the concept of the Wild West began to fade. However, the cultural icons which had influenced the image of "The Old West" was still alive. The idea of the cowboy has always been centered around the West and primarily this image has been seen and idolized in many movies. In reality, the cowboy profession is a labour intensive and lonely lifestyle. However, the cattle industry had become very profitable for Wyoming. The idea of The Old West in relation to Wyoming is one that can be seen throughout the state's history. Furthermore, these cultural attributes can still be seen in modern day Wyoming. This is evident in a number of cases such as the states national sport consisting of the "rodeo" as well as the state's animal being the bison. These images and representations of Wyoming have encouraged people to link Wyoming with The Old West. This traditional Old West heritage has been and continues to be a prominent part of Wyoming's identity and is an association that will never fade.

Native American "Wyoming" to 1868

1866 Johnson Map of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska and Dakota



Before Wyoming became a series of borders within the map of the United States, the land was part of a large expanse known as the great plains. This land was inhabited and traversed by many native tribes before the appearance of European settlers. To assume that all the tribes were the same is a mistake as each tribe had their own culture, rituals, and understanding of nature and life. Some evidence of very old tribes remains in rudimentary cave drawings found in various locations across the state.

Native Wyoming Prior To European Contact


Early Migration


The first people to settle in North America came from Asia by way of the Bearing Strait around twenty-thousand years ago. Archaeological findings date back to eleven thousand years ago for evidence of human inhabitation in the Wyoming area. The Native Americans of Wyoming were nomadic people and moved to where food sources were available, living as hunters and gatherers. By the time the first European settlers came to the area there were around thirteen different tribes such as the Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, Shoshone, and Ute. Some of the tribes were in conflict over resources, therefore establishing different groups and alliances.

Medicine Wheel

Archaeologists have discovered the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming which was built as a shrine by the Native Americans and gives us an insight into their religious practices. From these findings we can conclude that the tribes were well established and had formed societies complete with chiefs, warriors, and religion before the "white men" arrived.

The first large tribe to make their way into the area of Wyoming was the Shoshone tribe, who entered before the 18th century. Coming from what is now Nevada, it was not until the 1800s that their vast war power was diminished enough for the tribe to be pushed back into the western part of Wyoming (as well as eastern Idaho and southern Montana ). Following the Shoshone, coming from the north-east, were the Arapaho, Crow, and Cheyenne in the 1700s. The final addition to the Wyoming Native Americans was the Lakota Sioux; another vast warrior population, this group allied with both the Arapaho and Cheyenne.

The Cheyenne Tribe

Cheyenne sun dance

The Cheyenne were a nomadic group who moved frequently in pursuit of buffalo. These sudden shifts in location allowed the Cheyenne tribe to view the entire land as a home, which provided food and shelter. The buffalo were their primary source of survival and were used not only as a source of food, but for clothing, shelter and trade. This lifestyle was not easy as the tribe would travel for miles, tracking down the buffalo. Once they had found them, there was a true danger and difficulty in killing them. The Cheyenne people used the lay of the land to their advantage in the hunt. The men would drive the buffalo into a pen made under a bank or a bluff to trap them and then shoot them with their arrows once they had been corralled. Once the killing was done the women had to work fast as the stark heat in the open expanse of land quickly spoiled the meat. As soon as the Buffalo had been butchered, the meat was either dried as jerky or cooked in pots and the hides stretched on pegs to be preserved by the sun. Each part of the buffalo was used and valued. The great plains land also provided other sources of food for the tribe as they travelled. The women would go out to gather wild berries and forage in the ground for root vegetables. The roots were eaten, but were also sold and used for trade. In this way the prairies provided for the tribe.Furthermore the tribe respected the natural elements that sustained their lives.

Among the historical accounts made by white European men there have been conflicting representations of the stability of the political nature of these tribes, with particular reference to the Cheyenne. With such varying reports, it becomes more prudent to focus upon what is fact. As with many large Native tribes, the Cheyenne was broken up into bands. Since the Cheyenne were a matriarchal society a child became part of the band their mother was living in at the time of their birth. It was not uncommon for a child to belong to a different band than their mother. With relation to marriage, a Cheyenne was not allowed to marry within their own band, and once married, the husband would come to join the bride's band.

Establishing Trade


While most tribes functioned prominently as hunter-gatherer societies, Native Americans of the Great Plains were also craftsmen and artisans. The articles produced were for daily use and also for religious practices. As previously stated, the buffalo herds were bountiful in the Wyoming region before the arrival of European settlers. Buffalo represented a great resource to the Native Americans because they were used as a source for food, clothing and shelter. With the arrival of European settlers, trading became an essential aspect of life for the Native Americans, and trading routes gave way for other settlers to discover America. Some of the Native Americans became guides for traders and trading with other European settlers became a very important element in the Indian way of life. Beaver pelts and buffalo hides were the main products that were traded in exchange for horses, weapons and other articles that would be of benefit to the Native Americans. Because the beaver and buffalo products were in high demand across Europe the animal resources in Wyoming and across North America became exploited and came close to extinction.

The Last of the Buffalo

Since the trading of animal hides declined, other resources such as mineral resources found on the land invited more white European men to come and settle the area thus encroaching on the land of the Native Americans.

After the Civil War ended in the United States, the Great Plains experienced a great migration of people coming to settle Native American lands. This led to incidents of violence becoming more prominent on the Great Plains, where Native Americans would attack travelers and steal their possessions. As many more settlers arrived in the Great Plains, the violence started to escalate between the white men and the Natives. As a result of these conflicts the government of the United States decided to call the tribes’ chiefs in to meet as a council and agree to the terms of a peace treaty. One of these treaties was held at Fort Laramie in September 1851. During this particular treaty the Native Americans promised to end the violence against the white men, accepted the government of the United States and allowed for territories to be drawn up in exchange for the government’s protection and $50,000 in goods for fifty years. The United States government did not comply with the agreed upon conditions of the Fort Laramie treaty and many other treaties and eventually rounded up the Indians who had survived and placed them onto reservations.

American Expansion Into The West


In the centuries following the European discovery of North America, European influence as far west as Wyoming was dominated by the French. They maintained the best relations with Natives, and had ventured the farthest west in search of trade. Following the conclusion of its conquest of New France in 1763, Britain attempted to limit westward expansion by promoting an Indian buffer-zone west of the American colonies. When trading companies still began to move west, Britain promoted French-Canadian voyageurs over their American counterparts, and forbade Americans “the fruits of their success in the Ohio Valley.” These traders’ presence in Wyoming remained limited for decades, for despite the American Revolution, Spanish authority over the Louisiana territory restricted American influence. It was only following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that Americans gained access to Wyoming. Although large-scale settlement would not occur until later in the century, the American presence in Wyoming following the Louisiana Purchase was significantly unlike that of earlier French or English influences in the area.

Wyoming after the Louisiana Purchase

Map of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase gave Americans unrestricted access to the west, which meant for a much stronger influence over Wyoming than the European fur-trade ever had. It also had allowed Americans to explore out towards the west where despite their trials and tribulations that would result from the elements, animals, the Sioux chiefs and other vigilantes many Americans undertook this harrowing journey. The 1803 “treaty with France did not contain any [definite] boundaries for Louisiana,” and this led to several expeditions to map out the West. In 1807, John Colter left the Lewis-Clarke Expedition to help found a jumping-off for the fur trade in Wyoming. From there he became the first American to “bring back account[s] of the Yellowstone Park Area.” Settlement would not occur for decades, and Wyoming country’s main significance remained as a route connecting the East to the West, especially following the discovery of South Pass and Oregon Trail, which were routes through the Rockies. Wyoming's lack of development during this period is demonstrated by accounts of lone caravans traveling across the Laramie River in 1834 just to rendezvous for the fur-trade.

The first Americans saw ‘wild’ bands of Shoshonis, Crows, Cheyenne, and Arapahos. The 1830s brought the final Indian migration into the area, when in 1834 American trader Robert Campbell invited the Sioux to move into the vicinity of Fort Laramie; this shows that Americans had already claimed political authority over the region. Tension and violence began to emerge in the 1840s as more Americans began making the trip across the Rockies, and rogue Sioux began attacking them. Sioux chiefs explained that they had no control over their younger warriors. These tensions led to a peace council commissioned by the US government and involving over 10,000 Indians on the 1st of September, 1851. High Plains Indians agreed to some fixed boundaries and would allow Americans to build roads. Despite the peace treaty however, violent skirmishes frequently erupted. These were often due to military officers attempting to arrest local Indians for perceived injustices, which then escalated into bloodier conflicts. This periodic violence would gradually culminate into widespread Indian resistance to US encroachment. This resistance is shown by one particular instance in 1864, when thousands of Sioux grouped together to block further caravan travel over the Plains.

Horse Creek Conference

A Meeting for a Later Treaty (Fort Laramie 1868)

Throughout the 1800s the fur trade and western migration began to bring more whites into "Wyoming", leading to growing hostilities as contact between the whites and natives grew more frequent. Forts and roads began to pass through the area and, in 1851, one of the first obvious moves of white control came in what is known as the "Horse Creek Conference". A government-funded conference, co-commissioned by David Mitchell and Thomas Fitzpatrick, the goal of the conference was to create defined 'property' lines for each tribe within the 'Wyoming' area. From the beginning, the conference, set to start on the first of September at Fort Laramie, was plagued with problems. A severe lack of buffalo and no wagon train meant that food at the treaty council would be in short supply for both the natives and the United States representatives. The Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache tribes had refused to come, while the uninvited Shoshone tribe came in great numbers. While en route, the Cheyenne had attacked and scalped two Shoshone warriors, adding to the already hostile relationship that the two tribes shared. Fitzpatrick and Mitchell also feared that the 300 men stationed at Fort Laramie would not intimidate the natives and would be unable to defend the un-walled fort on the open plain if it were to come under attack. These many difficulties caused - among other things - a change of location (30 miles east, at the mouth of Horse Creek on the North Platte River) and a seven day delay.

It was decided that the Platte’s north bank was to be designated for tribal encampments and Horse Creek’s west side to the traders and interpreters. The east side of Horse Creek was then established as the meeting grounds. After smoking from the peace pipe, Commissioner Mitchell informed the council that the government “do not come to you as traders,” and “do not want your land, horses, robes, nor anything you have, but have come to advise with you, and to make a treaty with you for your own good.” After much deliberation over the designated tribal territories, twenty-one chiefs representing the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Assiniboine signed the Horse Creek Treaty on September 17th. Each tribe was meant to select a chief and a couple of tribal men that the government would recognize, and in return the government would give each tribe 50 000 dollars in goods for fifty years, a time frame they changed to ten years after the original contract was signed. As an example of white control over the conference (and by extension the natives) not only were all the boundary lines created with no input from the people from which they would be enforced upon, but when the Sioux had yet to select a single chief, claiming it went against their politics, Mitchell selected one for them. Although the boundary lines were not reservations and, according to Mitchell, were "not intended to take any of [the Natives] lands away or to destroy [their] rights to hunt, or fish, or pass over the country”,this was inevitably the beginning of the white man's control over the lives of these Natives and it would not be long before further freedom was lost. Many more disputes were created later, not only over land, but over the white men not relinquishing the money and gifts that they had promised.

Fort Laramie

Alfred Jacob Miller - Fort Laramie

William Sublette and Robert Campbell established Wyoming’s first trade post, Fort William, in 1834 at the bottom of the Laramie River and the North Platte Rivers. Fort William spanned over 800 miles and became crucial as it was strategically placed geographically, serving as a vast port during the buffalo and fur trade to the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. In 1836 Fort William was sold to an American fur company and subsequently sold in 1849 to the military, which became the Fort Laramie. During its tenure as a military headquarters many people migrated to Fort Laramie causing tensions with Indian Groups to increase. After many years of coinciding with each other, friction between these two parties resulted in the Grattan Massacre.

"Old Fort Laramie."

In 1854 a group of soldiers invaded a large Sioux colony with the intention of arresting a man accused of taking a local cow. After attempted negotiations with the soldiers, Sioux Chief Conquering Bear refused to complete such requests. During a stalemate due to the lack of Indian Agent, a soldier shot Chief Conquering Bear instigating the Lakota and Sioux to retaliate. This invasion was a violation of the Laramie Treaty of 1851, which states any matters in regards to the detainment of a Sioux must involve the local Indian agent on behalf of the United States government. Among other soldiers, the battle resulted in the death of Lieutenant John Grattan, dubbing it the “Grattan Massacre”. The following September, Lieutenant William Harney organized a fleet of combatants to seek out revenge on the Sioux and Lakota people, resulting in the Battle of Ash Hollow. The Grattan Massacre amplified tensions between the military and the Great Plains Indians. This incident, among others, caused warfare in the Great Plains.

A path along the Powder River was created in 1863 by John Bozeman, acting as the most direct route for workers with the prospect of gold. In 1864, due to the massacre of 150 women and children, the Lakota and Arapaho tribes were forced to migrate. The outraged tribe members attacked white settlements along the Powder River in repent for what had been taken from them, eventually creating camps. In 1866 a treaty agreement was called at Fort Laramie in order to secure the safe passage of travellers through the Bozeman Trail, however also gave the U.S. military 700 troops along the Powder River. Insulted, leader of the Lakota tribe Red Cloud declined this treaty beginning a series of attacks known as Red Cloud’s War. The Council’s attempts to bring peace were finally acknowledged in 1868 when the final Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed. The Treaty surrendered Fort Laramie to the military, however it granted the Lakota tribe the Black Hills in order to guarantee the well being of the people.

The South Pass



Markers were situated along the South Pass differentiating the varying paths running through it. This boulder located at the summit of the Pass distinguishes the famous Oregon Trail.

Located along the Continental Divide in Wyoming, the South Pass was absolutely crucial in American history as it created a manageable pathway for settlers and emigrants to travel west. Without its existence, the Northern Pacific of the US would have most likely fallen under control of the British permanently. Not only that, but the southern regions of the country would have similarly remained a part of Mexico. Without the South Pass it is hard to imagine the United States in its present manifestation and ultimately might never have risen as the superpower it has become.

Search For An Alternative Route West


If the United States were to be successful in their expansion west of the Mississippi, a route expediting the tasking journey through the Rocky and Bitterroot Mountains was absolutely imperative. During the early 19th century the only option in moving west was to traverse these mountains directly. This daunting journey nearly ruined the famous expedition of Lewis and Clark. Having run from 1804-1806, Lewis and Clark were forced through the elements, fighting both starvation and the extreme cold. It was clear that a new passage was needed if the US was going to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Discovery Of The South Pass


In 1812, a group of seven men led by Robert Stuart traveled through the South Pass. This represented the first time it had been crossed by those of European descent. The South Pass is a gap between the Central and Southern Rocky Mountains running through the Continental Divide of Wyoming. Stuart and his men used local native knowledge of the Pass to successfully discover and navigate through it. The Pass had been used by local aboriginal groups for millennia prior, but was completely unknown to settlers before 1812. These astorians finished their campaign through the south of the Sweetwater valley, a route that would eventually become the Oregon Trail. Despite Stuart's discovery, the South Pass didn't become widely known and many fur traders continued heading west by way of northern routes.

Rise To Prominence


In 1832, as the Pass was still relatively unknown, Captain Benjamin Bonneville lead the first group to take wagons over the Continental Divide. Following this, in 1836, Marcus Whitman and a number of fellow missionaries, including his wife, traveled across the South Pass, marking the first time a white woman had ever crossed the divide. Within only a few years the South Pass transformed into a emigration highway as it became integrated through a number of prominent trails, most notably the Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail was the primary route in travelling between Missouri and Oregon and became very important during the Civil War. The South Pass continued to develop as time passed, becoming an essential route for freight and stage coaches as well. Both the famous Pony Express, delivering mail from Missouri to California, and the transcontinental telegraph line utilized the South Pass. During its peak, from 1841-1869, it is recorded that between 350,000 and 500,000 emigrants passed through the South Pass. Also, the discovery of gold in the South Pass created a temporary boom in the surrounding area mining as much as $15,000 worth of gold in a period of two years. However, the mines were exhausted within only a few years and South Pass City quickly followed suit.

Red Cloud's War




Red Cloud’s War, or the Bozeman War, was a violent conflict that occurred in northern Wyoming from 1866 to 1868. The war occurred between a coalition of native Sioux peoples and the United States government. The allied Sioux forces of the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Oglala Lakota peoples initiated hostilities when, during peaceful negotiations with the American government, the US army sent 700 soldiers under Colonel Henry B. Carrington into native territories inside the Powder River Basin. This betrayal of trust offended many in the coalition, who mobilized warriors to punish the offenders. After a crushing military defeat, the United States government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty, ceding the entire northeastern section of Wyoming to the Sioux.


John Bozeman, blazer of the Bozeman Trail that would spark Red Cloud's War

In 1863, a pioneer by the name of John Bozeman blazed the Bozeman Trail to connect the well-established Oregon Trail to the gold rush occurring in Montana. Although the most direct route, the trail cut through Arapaho and Lakota hunting grounds. The intrusion aggravated the tribes. The first waves of whites through the trail in 1864 provoked harassment from the American Indians. To crush the native resistance, Colonel John M. Chivington was sent into the region with Colorado volunteer troops that same year. As Chivington and the volunteer troops made their way across the Bozeman trail, 150 peaceful Cheyennes and Arapahos were massacred near Sandy Creek, Colorado. Incensed by this brutality, small conflicts erupted across the Bozeman trail. In an effort to negotiate passage for settlers and prospectors along the Bozeman Trail, the U.S. Interior Department assembled thousands of Oglala Lakota and Brule at Fort Laramie in 1866. Simultaneously, the U.S. War Department sent Colonel Carrington’s men down the Bozeman Trail to construct a series of forts along it. This outraged Red Cloud, an Oglala Lakota leader, who took his people and allies to war against the intruders.

The Conflict


Red Cloud and his men ruthlessly attacked travelers along the Bozemen Trail. The northernmost forts of Phil Kearny and Smith were harassed, with lumber gatherers and livestock being frequent victims. On December 21, 1866, a captain under Carrington, William J. Fetterman, was sent out of Fort Kearny with 80 men to aid an assaulted supply caravan. Despite orders to the contrary, Fetterman pursued Lakota decoys into an ambush that resulted in the total slaughter of him and his men. After the defeat, Carrington was relieved of his command by President Grant. The following year was marked by small, indecisive skirmishes such as the August 2nd Wagon Box Fight. In 1868, Red Cloud and his coalition began negotiations with the US government at Fort Laramie. The Treaty of Fort Laramie was a resounding victory for the native peoples, securing the entire northeastern section of Wyoming as their undisputed territory. The Forts of Kearny and Smith were razed by the coalition after the American forces retreated outside the new borders.



The land was viewed as a living entity that met the fundamental needs of the people and was not an object to be possessed or divided. The tribes did, at times, wage war with one another but it was never because of land disputes. Land was not defined by boundaries until the migration of white settlers to the great plains. It was at this time that the land became politically defined. Modern day Wyoming, with its borders and boundaries, came into existence and little by little the native tribes saw what was once a free expanse of land, divided, sold and made inaccessible to them. The migration patterns of the buffalo were changed by the white settlements, and numerous tribes were forced onto reservations, but the descendants of these tribes preserve the memory of a time when the land was undefined, an endless expanse, a border-less home.

Territorial Days: Railways, Suffrage and Cattle, 1868-1890

Territorial Days: Railways, Suffrage, and Cattle, 1868-1890




In the early 1860s the western half of the United States was open territory, which was sparsely populated. Most of these inhabitants were Native American from the many different tribes that resided in Wyoming. In an effort to get more American settlers to settle in the west President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act on July 1 1862. This law made the Union Pacific a legal corporation, and it gave the necessary land to build railway in the western territories. On July 25, 1868, President Andrew Johnson signed the Organic Act, an act of the United States Congress, creating Wyoming Territory. This new area would take land from the Dakota, Idaho, and Utah Territories.

The First Governor to be appointed was John A. Campbell, on April 3, 1869. The first territorial legislature of Wyoming convened on October 12, 1869. In Governor Campbell’s inaugural address to this first legislature he said, "For the first time in the history of our country, the organization of a territorial government was rendered necessary by the building of a railroad”. While the Union Pacific Railroad entered into Wyoming in 1867, the creation of the territory two years later occurred partly due to the necessity of raising funds for the construction of the railroad.

It was not until after Wyoming officially became a territory that the railway was extended to the western border. The railroads proved vital in establishing industries including coal and timber production, as they could haul copious amounts of freight to the Eastern United States. Furthermore, the railway significantly improved the ability of settlers to gain access to the territory, and thus contributed to a significant increase in Wyoming's population.

For all the benefits that the Union Pacific Railway gave economically to the Wyoming territory, there were a lot of controversies after the construction of the railroad. After the railway was built, the Interstate Commerce Commission conducted an investigation into the Union Pacific not their selling excessive land to businesses, opting instead to keep the land and run a monopoly on the coal industry. The report was very critical on the Union Pacific, specifically one paragraph saying "It seems that the conditions which attended have all been evaded, disregarded or vitiated by fraud or lapsed over time." Funding for the Union Pacific Railroad was raised by both public coffers and private investors.

By 1880 the population was 20,789, of which one-half resided in the seven towns than lay along the Union Pacific. There was much tension between the American settlers who resided in this southern area of Wyoming near the railroad towns and the Natives who occupied much of the northern territory and uncharted non-Wyoming territory. Problems between aboriginals and settlers continued even after the territorial government was implemented. There was also tension between American settlers and new Chinese settlers. This tension eventually grew into conflict and lead to the Rock Springs Massacre. on September 2, 1885 striking coal miners working for Union Pacific mining killed 28 Chinese strike-breakers, along with wounding 15 others and destroying property valued at $147,000. These tensions ultimately led to violent conflicts, which inevitably resulted in loss of life and trust between all parties. Conclusively this prevented business from occurring, slowed settlement in northern Wyoming, and caused the territory much difficulty in the highly significant task of bringing in new settlers.

The Wyoming Cattle Boom


Stemming from the Wyoming Cattle Boom of 1868 to 1886, Wyoming to this day is referred to as the Cowboy State. Popular belief surrounding the origin of the Wyoming Cattle Boom can be attributed to Seth Wood, a government trader. It was believed that Seth Wood left his cattle out on the range over the winter season, when he returned to retrieve what was left of his cattle he was surprised to find the vast majority had survived the winter off of grazing alone.

The battle of the Little Big Horn 1876

The coupling of Wyoming's mild winters and nutrient-rich lands allowed for herds of cattle to roam the terrain year round. This was beneficial as there was little human intervention required while also absorbing additional costs including feed and shelter. While some still credit this to be the origin of Wyoming’s Cattle Boom, others suggest a mass cattle migration from Texas along with increased economic opportunities as another plausible credited source.

Due to the vast amount of open space and government land available for purchase, Wyoming was an ideal location for the raising of stock. Although the expansion of the cattle industry from Texas was initially limited by danger from savage Indians and the necessity to remain near urbanized markets. However, the cattle industry was able to expand when the railroad companies began building westward giving rise to new markets for beef. Also, ranchers were able to use capital investments from New York, Boston and London. Furthermore, with the defeat of the Indians at the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876, and the subsequent forced migrations to reserves, vast lands that were previously occupied were now free for the taking. Coupled with the extermination of the bison from previous decades, Wyoming provided the cattle industry with large areas of land suitable for grazing. These factors, along with the increased demand for beef in the East, contributed to the Great Cattle Drives in the 1860s. Businessmen bought cattle in Texas and drove them north to Wyoming along the Texas Trail. During this time the ranchers took over most of the land and bred profitable cattle to keep up with the high demand for beef. Within twelve to fifteen years the movement was largely completed and the cattle kingdom was at its height of big business characterized by large herds and control over capital and territory. However, by 1890 their big businesses were threatened by a more profitable sheep industry that would eventually spark hostilities between the two. In the early 20th century the sheepherders won the right to range on all parts of public domain but at a cost of thirty-five thousand dead sheep and the deaths of fifty sheepherders by cowboys.

Other origins of the cattle boom can be traced back to 1849 when 350 soldiers were encamped in Wyoming due to clashes with the Plains Indian Tribe. This presence of the soldiers increased the demand for beef in Wyoming but it wasn't until the Civil War that the demand spiked. During the Civil War demand for first barrelled and then tinned beef sky rocketed. As the South continued to call for more men to step up and bear arms to fight for the Confederate cause, countless herds were left unattended which adversely flooded the market for Longhorn cattle, dropping the price to $9.46 per critter.

Wyoming Cattle Bunk House circa 1870-1890

In Wyoming, however, the price per unit stayed high at $86.00 per critter. Furthermore, the innovation of refrigeration cars on the railroads and refrigerated compartments on ships allowed for more beef to be transported throughout the US and overseas. In fact in 1876, Britain imported 1,732 tonnes of beef, 80% of which was from the United States, and a substantial amount of that from Wyoming. Within two years, the amount inflated to 30,000 tonnes.

The increased demand for Wyoming beef led to the formation of the Wyoming stock raising business. Prominent names such as “F.E. Warren, Joseph Carey, Charlie Hutton and the four Swan brothers” invested in extensive resources of land and livestock. In 1872 “Cattle Growers founded one of the most powerful organizations in the West, The Wyoming Stock Growers Association”.

The increased sale of cattle brought enormous wealth into Wyoming. In May 1870 the cattle price peaked at $6.47 per “hundred-weight” and over the next 10 years the price would fluctuate while never falling below “$4.00”. Large economic profits provided investors and cattle rustlers with extreme wealth. In the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming 8 millionaires were among the 3,000 inhabitants. “It became one of the first cities in the US to have street lighting”. Eventually the cattle boom slowed down and stopped as a result of “The Homestead Act of 1862, The Timber Act of 1872, and the Dessert Land Act of 1877”, which handed out or sold government land, and would eventually lead to most of Wyoming's land being owned by private investors. These Acts along with inclement weather in the “winter of 86-87” lead to the silencing of the Cattle Boom in Wyoming.

Cattle Downfall


Prosperity in Wyoming was beginning to fade when the winter of 1886-1887 hit the cattle farms. This terrible winter decimated the cattle population and negatively impacted the growing economy of Wyoming. One third of all northern cattle were killed due to hurricane blizzards, heavy snowfall, and very cold rain. Additionally, the surviving cattle were in horrible condition. The left over cattle were sold for very little and profits began to plummet due to the poor quality of the product. The harsh winter was the beginning of the end for the cattle boom. Although the cattle boom was in fact ending and new sources of economic wealth were surfacing, it still had a significant impact on the creation and maturation of Wyoming in the 1880s.

The Rock Springs Massacre

File:Rock sprigs

With the growing mining industry, the Union Pacific Railroad had been establishing its route through Cheyenne, Wyoming. The increase in demand for coal mining increased the importance of railroads through the distribution of raw materials. Immigrant workers mainly from China, were brought to Rock Springs, WY to mine coal, however tensions between the white and Chinese miners rose and lead to 23 Chinese miners being killed on September 2, 1885. This massacre was a crucial moment in the history of Wyoming, as many of the 600 Chinese miners wished to return to the west coast because they feared for their lives. Governor Francis Warren tricked the Chinese into returning to Rock Springs and arranged with the mine company to ensure work be resumed. This reestablished the flow of coal and ensured Wyoming’s future as an important part of the railroad system. Though devastated and homeless the Chinese miners continued work and were a huge part in allowing the territory to grow into the state it is now. Governor Warren viewed Chinese workers as a need for the Wyoming economy to avoid devastation despite the issues between races.

The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad

Railroad Station in Green River Wyoming circa 1871

During the Wyoming Territorial days, the area attempted to draw people in by temptation of what was at the time thought to be the greatest and most triumphant industry in the world; the railway. Hundreds of settlers came to Wyoming in hopes of finding a place that was located moderately close to a rich water source, coal deposits, and most importantly to a thriving business scene that offered an abundance of labour opportunities.

After Wyoming's statehood in 1890, the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad Company emerged as the new railroad line within Wyoming. Throughout the state, this railroad underwent several name changes including Grand Island Railroad Northern Wyoming Railroad Company, and the Big Horn Railroad Company due to separate construction financing around the state. Eventually the company would resume their original namesake, the CB&Q. As the west continued to expand, many investors and business elites saw the need for increased railroad transportation. The railroad allowed for migrants to travel westward, as the West was the land of opportunities for land ownership and jobs.

Investments for this railroad were made by John Forbes of Boston, and the line was administered by Charles E. Perkins. Perkins, being a major contributor to this railroad in Wyoming and the greater Midwest, was elected as the railroad's President in 1881. Perkins thoroughly planned the railroad, from how much operators would be paid, to which engines would be the most efficient for operation. Perkins encouraged investors and settlers to buy the land the railroad owned, in which it was sold to the highest bidder. By the time he retired from the railroad, Perkins doubled the track mileage from 2838 miles, to 4874 miles.

The CB&Q railroad line ran from East to West, and as investment and demand in the East continued to grow, materials such as timber and coal were required. By 1892 the line eventually would make it to Sheridan, Wyoming where it was instrumental in the exporting the towns coal. Lumber production also exploded in Sheridan as lumber was essential for its use in railroad construction, acting as the ties under the tracks.

1897 Poor's Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad

The railroad expanded due to the growing number of coal mines in the state. By 1901, Perkins connected the lines between Toluca, Montana and Cody, Wyoming to carry more coal and other commodities. This railroad line was demonstrating it's importance to this state almost immediately.

As this railroad became busier the state grew accordingly. The CB&Q railroad alone reportedly brought eight-thousand families to Wyoming between the years 1906 and 1913, families hoping to take advantage of the resources Wyoming offered. In fact, in the year 1880 the population was recorded at 20,789 citizens, more than double the 9,118 population of ten years previous, and only a third of the population that would exist by 1890. The railroad was able to settle most of Wyoming. The expanding settlement allowed for the development of industries, and converted land for agriculture use which allowed the state of Wyoming to prosper financially alongside the East Coast of the United States where most of the raw materials would be sold.

As diesel-operated engines became available, the CB&Q Railway was at the forefront of pioneering them and begin phasing out coal-operated steam engines. This new investment in diesel engines would harm the coal production in Wyoming towns as it was slowly becoming irrelevant in the diesel era. Unfortunately, for the CB&Q and many other railroads they experienced a large decrease in passengers that were no longer interested in locomotive transportation. This would decline until the United States would enter World War II.

Saloons and Liquor on the Western Frontier


Drunken cowboys in a bar, brawling, yelling, gambling, and being altogether wild and rambunctious is an image often associated with the nineteenth century western frontier. This image is partly true, as alcohol was a major part of life and business in the Wyoming Territory. Once finished the day’s work on ranches, mines, or railroads the men of Wyoming, who outnumbered the female population six to one, filled the saloons night after night. After the refreshments, night time dances were known to last into the morning. The drinks of choice were bourbon whiskey and beer, and on special occasions the wealthy entrepreneurs from the east would enjoy champagne and red wine. The largest service industry in Wyoming was selling drinks. In 1870, Cheyenne, with a population of just 1,450 had twenty-seven saloon- keepers, four brewers, seven wholesale liquor merchants, nine bar keepers, and five liquor store merchants. Saloons were carefully run business establishments, each designed for a particular clientele. Some were for the ranchers, others the miners or soldiers from nearby areas after a hard long work day on their jobs, and some for the upper middle class communities. Owning a bar or saloon was a lucrative business, and many of them became well respected leaders in the territory. Luke Murrin, who ran a gambling saloon, became Mayor of Cheyenne, J.W. Connor was elected mayor of Laramie, and Harry Hynds opened saloons all over the west and was involved in real estate, hotels, and oil. Hynds was so well respected that in attendance at his funeral were US senators, congressmen, and federal judges. A final example, Judge George Ashdown began in Sundance, Wyoming by opening a saloon; he later became a respected sheriff and justice of the peace.

Cheyenne was a unique case in Wyoming. Its Cattlemen and settlers were becoming very wealthy in the 1880’s. During the decade, Carey Avenue a main street, became known as ‘Millionaires Row’ which had over forty mansions constructed on site. The mansions were built in the Romanesque style, which was popular in the eastern part of the country. Other Wyoming cities did not have this kind of extravagant architecture.

In 1879, a lavish clubhouse was erected in Cheyenne by a group of new residents to the territory from distinguished society in the East. This group, was looking to profit off of the cattle business, but were unaccustomed to ranch life. Their club, ‘The Cheyenne Club,’ had all of the amenities and comfort they were used to. A code of ethics had to be obeyed to ensure only gentleman entered. Gambling, fighting, and excessive drunkenness were means for suspension or expulsion from the club. The influence of the territory crept in however, as documents show that the club finished immense amounts of rum, gin, and whiskey. John Clay, one of Cheyenne’s prominent socialites and President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association wrote, “Looking back it seems worse than wicked to think of the bad whiskey and very poor beer we managed to drink and digest in those days.”

Liquor sale and consumption in the Wyoming territory were an important part of economics and lifestyle. Cowboys, soldiers, and miners alike were enjoying life, intoxicated on the western frontier.

Women's Suffrage in Wyoming


Prior to, as well as after, the enfranchisement of women in the Territory of Wyoming there was very little organized suffrage activity unlike a large portion of states and territories within the United States. For the most part Wyoming was a sparsely populated territory where cattle-raising was the main occupation for its inhabitants and men outnumbered women six to one. Encouraged by his wife and several other women (such as Esther Morris) William H. Bright, President of the Council of the Wyoming Territorial Legislature, introduced his bill “An Act to Grant the Women of Wyoming Territory the Right of Suffrage and to Hold Office” on November 12th, 1869 bringing women’s suffrage to the forefront of Wyoming’s political agenda. As a Democrat, Bright believed that the Republican Governor, John Campbell, would veto the suffrage bill and politically attack him in order to obtain more popular support in the state.

Women Seen at the Polls in Cheyenne Wyoming circa 1888

Bright argued that such a bill would generate positive publicity and entice women to migrate to Wyoming in hopes of balancing the gender ratios, as well as aid the growth of families and population. Wyoming also needed a population influx if it ever hoped to qualify for statehood, and Bright believed this was a good way to attract more residents. The Bill for Women’s Suffrage in Wyoming was signed into law on December 10, 1869. In 1870, Grandma Swain became the first female in the United States to cast her ballot in an American election. From this point onward, Women’s Suffrage became an adopted Republican principle and over time the party benefited from it.

Not only did this new law allow women the right to vote and hold office, but it also meant women were now on the list of prospective jurors, had state control over their own property and protected them against discrimination as teachers. Two months after the bill was passed, three women were commissioned justices of the peace; the only one to have served was Esther Morris "the mother of suffrage in Wyoming” and the first woman justice on record who held office for eight months in South Pass City, Wyoming. By April 1870 women began to serve on grand and petit juries in Laramie; by 1871 women were sitting alongside men on juries in Cheyenne. Legislature passed in 1882 allowed women to not only acquire land and hold real estate (as granted by Bright’s original bill), but also convey their property without their husband’s concurrence. There was very little suffragist activity in Wyoming until 1889 when Wyoming applied for statehood. Many opposed granting the territory statehood believing that it went against being an Anglo-Saxon and that politics was a masculine space, reserved for Anglo-Saxon men only. Despite this, Wyoming was granted statehood on March 28th, 1890 with a vote of 139 to 127 making it the only full women suffrage state in the Union and earning it the nickname “the Equality State.”

This suffrage movement led to female employment opportunities, most of which being teaching in one of the territories rural schoolhouses. As a result women played an important role in, what was known as, "country teaching." From the foundation of the Wyoming territory in 1868 until the Second World War and after, "country teaching" became a widespread form of employment for women. Despite Wyoming’s long history of male abundance and female scarcity, more than eight women have been employed for every man hired to teach in the territory and then eventual states’ public schools.

However women in Wyoming were not expected to make teaching a long-term career. Indeed, teaching was assumed to be a temporary pursuit that was more so seen as preparation for marriage. This reality unfortunately led to inadequate salaries, low status, no room for career expansion and discrimination against married women, which in turn prompted high rates of teacher turnover and general inexperience.



While the years between 1868 and 1890 did not see Wyoming acquire statehood, they were formative to the primary economic and political institutions of the area. The expansion of the Union Pacific Railway to Wyoming's western border caused an influx of settlers and the resulting economic boom in the territory. Wyoming was also instrumental in the movement for women's suffrage, becoming the first territory or state to grant women political and legal rights. Finally, the cattle business was essential to the establishment of a successful economy in Wyoming. The territorial period was important in the development of Wyoming as a unique political, economic and territorial entity, and was instrumental in the continued growth of Wyoming into the period of statehood.

Modern Wyoming, 1890-1945

Wyoming Statehood

The State Seal of Wyoming

Until neighboring South Dakota and Montana entered the Union in 1889, Wyoming received little recognition due to its relatively small population. Wyoming had not considered entering the United States as a state due to some prominent citizens not believing the territory was ready to become a state. However when the issue came to a territory wide vote, the majority of Wyoming’s citizens voted in favor of statehood. In Governor Frances E. Warren's inauguration speech, a plea was made for statehood. Warren argued that the increased expense of statehood would be offset by greater revenues, and promised rapid growth and development once admission to the Union had been accomplished. In September of 1889, under the leadership of Governor Francis E. Warren, Wyoming elected forty-nine men to the Constitutional Convention, where the soon to be state's constitution was drafted. On July 10th, 1890, the United States admitted Wyoming into the Union as the forty-fourth state.

The Johnson County War


The Johnson County War was a two-day range war fought between large cattle ranchers and small homesteaders in northern Wyoming in the spring of 1892. Like most range wars of the Old West, the Johnson County War - sometimes referred to as the War on Powder River - was the climax of longstanding property disputes over land and especially cattle ownership on the open range. Today, the story of the Johnson County War is one of the most retold and well known of the range war tales. The conflict has been referred to as “the most notorious event in the history of Wyoming,” for its influence in reshaping the cattle industry and political landscape of Wyoming.



Crowding and Competition on the Open Range


In the late 19th century, the range cattle industry was the undisputed king of Wyoming business. Encouraged by the booming industry and supported by federal land acts of the time (especially the Homestead Act of 1862) homesteaders migrated to Wyoming to share in the public domain and raise small herds of their own. By the early 1880's, this migration had created a major crowding problem on the range. The land-intensive nature of cattle ranching and informal land rights (based mostly in common law) brewed conflict and competition between established ranchers and new-coming homesteaders. Exacerbating this issue, the price of cattle reached a record high in 1882 and cattlemen responded by bringing in more cattle and overstocking their ranges. This led to a sharp rise in cattle population and a rapid decline in available land. Rustling - illegal branding/theft of cattle - became more of a concern (especially among big cattlemen), as cattle from different herds mixed. Theft, however, was not the only source of conflict on the increasingly crowded range.

1962 Stamp commemorating the Homestead Act of 1862

Wyoming Stock Growers' Association


Frustrated by growing competition from homesteaders, big cattlemen – all members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) – attempted to limit settlers’ access to the public domain by influencing territorial legislation (Maverick Law of 1884) and by controlling participation in the annual roundup. Unfortunately for the cattlemen, the WSGA’s efforts did not effectively curb rustling and in 1892, Johnson County homesteaders formed the rival Northern Wyoming Stock Farmers and Stock Growers Association, promising to host an alternate roundup. This direct competition with the WSGA and the persistent issue of rustling led a group of big cattlemen to seek an end to their competition through vigilante justice in the spring of 1892.

The Invasion and the War on Powder River

A stable of the TA Ranch, Northern Wyoming

Nate Champion was a small cattleman who ran his small herd on public lands, which, under the Homestead Act, were legally open to him. The big cattlemen attempted to assassinate Nate Champion in 1891, but that attempt failed miserably. Champion would later testify against the cattlemen, further aggravating the existing rivalry between cattle barons and homesteaders. On April 5, 1892, a small militia of prominent Wyoming cattlemen, their employees, and 23 hired Texas gunmen traveled north from Cheyenne to Johnson County with a “death list” of roughly 70 accused rustlers and troublemakers. The “invasion”, as it has come to be known, was bound for Buffalo, the seat of Johnson County, but was permanently delayed at the T.A. Ranch on Powder River on April 8, 1892. With intelligence provided by local spies, the militia discovered that Champion was hiding out at the K.C. Ranch. At the ranch, the invaders and Champion engaged in a shoot-out that lasted many hours before the militia managed to set fire to the cabin, forcing Champion outside where he was fatally shot. The invaders fled to the nearby T.A. Ranch.

News of the invasion spread, soon reaching Johnson County Sheriff, Red Angus, who quickly raised his own vigilante army of around 200 men to combat the invaders. This group of men planned to deploy a strategy called an "ark of safety" (a moveable fort to which dynamite was attached) to force out the invaders from the T.A. Ranch. Unfortunately, the group never was able to use this tactic. The standoff between the invaders and Sheriff Angus’ army lasted only two days before the intervention of the 6th U.S. Cavalry on April 13th, 1892, brought the fighting to an end. President Benjamin Harrison ordered the dispatch of troops from Fort McKinney, under Article IV, Section 4, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which allows for the use of U.S. military force under the President's orders for protection from invasion and domestic violence. The invaders were taken into custody in Cheyenne to await judicial action, and the conflict known as the Johnson County War was ended. However, the impact of this War in Wyoming had only just begun.

Aftermath: Justice, Politics and the New West

Amos W. Barber, Second Governor of Wyoming 1890-1893

Later testimonials of the invaders and their supporters have stated that then-governor of Wyoming, Amos Barber knew of the planned invasion through many of his cattle baron friends. Hearing of his friends’ predicament in Johnson County, Barber called upon President Harrison for military intervention. Barber assumed control of the invaders’ questioning once they were taken into custody. Though charges were brought against the invaders, none were ever convicted.

The invasion had a major political impact in Wyoming, where voters were disturbed by the lack of legal consequences brought against the invaders. In the 1892 election the Republican Party, long associated with big cattlemen and the WSGA, was ousted by a landslide victory for Wyoming Democrats in the seats of governor, Congress and Senate.

The Johnson County War also marks a significant shift in the Wyoming cattle industry, from the days of the Old West and the kings of range cattle, to the New West of the pioneering homesteader.

Wyoming and Oil


Oil Boom and Demographic Shift


After the Johnson County War came to an end and Wyoming entered into the early twentieth century, the state began to shift away from its traditional cattle industry towards a new resource. Discoveries of oil reserves in the state sparked the growth of what would prove to be a much more lucrative industry.

The growth of the oil industry in Wyoming would come to have very important economic and political ramifications for the state. In the early 20th century, promoters of Wyoming recognized its richness in natural resources, and promised it as a rapidly advancing state developing new industrial opportunities. This was followed with the point that outside capital would be needed in large amounts, but they remained confident that the rich natural resources would draw this capital in. Oil was one of these resources, and the industry that formed around its extraction helped to create a relatively urban area in a notoriously underdeveloped state.

The high point of Wyoming’s oil production and refining took place in the early 1920’s. Casper was one of the main oil producing cities in Wyoming. It saw a huge boom between 1910 and 1925. Since there were so many jobs available, men from around the country brought their families and settled in Wyoming. The Midwest Oil Exchange, a penny stock exchange, existed on one side of Casper’s downtown. Its purpose was to intrigue investors so that money could be raised to buy equipment and lease land. In this same area there was an area known as the Sand Bar which also stimulated the economy in Casper. This area was less than reputable as compared to the oil industry but it did bring a lot of revenue to the town as a result of the increase of male workers. Sheepherders, oil refinery workers and Cowboys alike all flooded to the saloons, pool halls and prostitution houses that were found in the Sand Bar. Even after Wyoming became affected by Prohibition, they still generated profit, they simply became speakeasies and business went on as usual. Although Casper was known as Wyoming’s oil city, it was actually the Salt Creek oil patch to the North of Casper that was producing the largest amount of oil; not only in Wyoming but in the world at this time. This would greatly benefit veterans of the First World War as many men were looking for jobs and they found them in Wyoming.

The Salt Creek Oil Field of Natrona County was one of the major extraction centers in the state, producing roughly 3.5 million barrels of oil in 1923. This massive production fueled industry in nearby Casper, which held five refineries to process the massive amounts of oil coming out of Natrona County. Given Casper's relative proximity to the oil fields, Casper became a major hub for oil production, and this is well reflected in the census. Having a meager population of 883 in the year 1900, this population would more than triple to 2,639 by 1910, and then more than triple again to 11,447 by 1920 - making it the second largest city in the state. The sudden prosperity due to the oil fields, and the sheer reliance on them would result in Casper eventually being given the nickname "Oil City".

Though Casper was the largest example of urbanization due to the oil industry, many other places benefited greatly due to increasing petroleum demand and the state's natural ability to supply this demand. For example, the town of Lusk increased its population more than tenfold in the same 1900-1920 period. The University of Wyoming also found oil on its lands, allowing it to expand facilities despite an overall poor economic climate.

Demand for oil products, especially petroleum, came about as cars began to be introduced into Wyoming culture in years after the turn of the century. By the middle of the next decade, cars had become so widely used that the state began requiring licensing for the vehicles. Following this, Wyoming was motivated to focus on improving roads, eventually leading to the formation of associations to further these projects and accomplishing the creation of the Lincoln Highway. This would become the nation's "first designated transcontinental automobile route."

Perhaps the most important event that permanently changed Wyoming’s economic future was the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. Since Wyoming was so rich in oil, the state began to do extremely well economically after this law had been passed. In the late 1920’s as the Depression was approaching, Wyoming oil companies saw a decrease in demand and the oil prices subsequently dropped. Many people at this time left in search of work elsewhere. It was not until the Second World War that the oil companies and the rest of America would be brought out of the depression. The high demand for oil from the Allied forces jump started the production of oil in Wyoming once more. American Aircraft Carriers, Ships, War Planes and Tanks were all in need of massive amounts of high octane fuel and Wyoming was able to produce it.

One of Wyoming's most notable events, the Teapot Dome scandal, comes out of this context of a state driven in its pursuit of expanding oil industry. The Teaport Dome Scandal also requires knowledge of another major factory that shaped Wyoming's economy, the Mineral Leasing Act. With the understanding provided of the impacts of the oil industry in Wyoming, we can look more closely at the changes brought by the implementation of the Mineral Leasing Act.

Mineral Leasing Act


The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 altered the economic destiny of Wyoming. From the 1900s to World War I Wyoming’s economy was based on agriculture, especially cattle and crop production. However, as World War I came to a conclusion and the 1920’s rolled in, Wyoming transitioned into a time of unrest and economic uncertainty because of the depression. As persistent droughts and deflation of post war prices occurred, livestock and agricultural production fell. The value of meat and crop products dropped sharply. In 1919 cattle production was worth $42.00 but by 1925 cattle and sheep combined were worth only $26 million. In Fremon County, total crop value fell from $2.4 million in 1919 to less than $900 000 in 1924. Because of this decline, oil and gas became the new hot commodity. Wyoming State Geologist, Albert Barlett, stated that the “mineral industry was more important to the state economy than either livestock or agriculture”.

Petroleum being pumped from a well

With the post war boom of automobile sales in the 1920’s and the need to supply the US Navy warship engines, petroleum was fast becoming an important new resource, rising from 13,000,000 barrels produced in 1918 to 44,000,000 in 1923. Wyoming, which sits on the most important oil fields in the Rocky Mountains, including the Teapot Dome, quickly became a large producer of the nation’s petroleum. However, this did not cushion the impact of the depression on Wyoming. The 1872 Mining Law allowed companies and corporations to own public lands in the west and to extract any minerals from them and retain all profits gained, by paying a very small fee. Initial discoveries of oil were generally kept as secretive as possible to prevent claim jumping, which was a chronic problem. Because of capitalistic desires, once word got out, each discovery prompted a scramble to claim and drill as much nearby land as possible and to produce as much oil as fast as possible. This often led to the draining of oil from neighboring tracts. This created a closed trading economy as the same few companies sold to each other, preventing any independent or smaller companies from entering the growing business. The New York Times wrote of the Standard Oil Company’s overwhelming monopoly of 99% of all oil production and transportation, and noted the impossibility of independent oil companies to compete in such a private system.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, 1919

On February 25, 1920, the Mineral Leasing Law was passed by President Woodrow Wilson to combat the problems with the previous law. The law regulated the extraction of minerals to prevent resource monopolies and help stimulate the Wyoming's economy. It divided the legal status of oil, natural gas, coal and phosphates from minerals like gold, silver, copper and lead. It also restricted the areas of land and the length of time a company could mine resources from the area. It stated that a company could have no more than three leases in any state, never more than one in any given oil field, and the length of the leases were ten years. Most importantly, it placed the government in direct control of the land; now in charge of selling the leases and receiving one eighth of the profits made from the land. The act converted the federal government into a very large proprietor of petroleum lands. These restrictions helped the government control the formation of monopolies. Several Wyoming members of Congress were able to ensure that the federal government was required to pay back 37.5% royalties to state governments, thus helping Wyoming's economy greatly. Wyoming used this new capital gain to improve public schools, roads, and the University. The petroleum corporations praised the states new revenues, no doubt in an attempt to boost their falling status and popularity with the people of Wyoming who now had a chance to get out from under their boot.

Not everyone was in favor of this new leasing policy. Democratic and Republican citizens of Wyoming felt that it could take jobs away from Wyoming. And while in theory the plan initially prevented monopolization, price gouging and monopolization still occurred and depressed the oil and gas industry yet again. Production declined from the 1923 high to a low of 11,500,000 barrels in 1933. As the Great Depression deepened, so did the plummeting future of the oil industry in Wyoming.

Today these regulations have been increased so that the maximum federal oil and gas land that one can lease at one time is 246 080 acres. Wyoming royalties have also increased to today's 48%. Overall this law made exploring for and extracting oil and gas on federal and public land a privilege and not a right. The Mineral Leasing Act was essential in pushing the values of oil, gas, and coal in Wyoming beyond the values of agriculture and thus shaping modern Wyoming’s economy.

Teapot Rock. The formation that gave Teapot Dome its name

The Teapot Dome was a 9,481-acre oil reserve located 30 miles north of Casper and just south of Salt Creek in Wyoming. It was designated for the exclusive use of the United States Navy. Navy officials were concerned about the possibility of running out of petroleum, which their ships required to operate, so they created three oil reserves that were solely for their use the event of an emergency such as an oil shortage.

Albert Fall.

In the early 1920s President Harding transferred control of the Teapot Dome oil reserve from the department of the Navy to the Department of the Interior, which was run by Albert Fall. Fall proceeded to lease the reserve for the purpose of extracting oil to wealthy oil baron Henry Sinclair of the Mammoth oil company. Rumors of the leasing of the Teapot Dome oil reserves began circulating, which led Senator Kendrick, of Wyoming, to begin receiving letters and telegrams asking him to inquire about the rumored leasing of the reserves to private interests. Senator Kendrick proceeded to ask the Department of the Interior for information and was told that no contract for the lease had been made. Fall committed a lie of omission as he failed to announce that he leased the entire area of the Teapot Dome to Sinclair. Eight days after Fall replied to Kendrick, the Department of the Interior formally announced the leasing of the Teapot Dome. Fall had given the lease to Sinclair, owner of the Mammoth Oil Company. The government would receive royalties of 12.5-50% on the production of the oil wells in the Teapot Dome. There was an unusual provision on the lease that stated the government would not receive its royalty in oil or cash payments but in oil certificates. The certificates could be exchanged for fuel, oil, petroleum products or oil storage tanks.

Under pressure from various government members, the Senate voted to investigate the lease. Under the leadership of Senator Walsh of Montana, hearings began to determine first, why the land had been leased, and second, why there had not been competitive bidding for the reserve. Fall was called in for questioning but he continued to defend his leasing policy. Senator Walsh critically analyzed the lease, as well as past legislation relevant to the lease and questioned witnesses to determine whether the contract made with Sinclair was acceptable. Witnesses brought to light Fall's sudden increase in wealth, mentioning that he had substantially increased his fortune at the time he leased the Teapot Dome. Fall's alibi to the courts was that he had big business in mind and that he wanted to increase the wealth of the United States. Unbeknowst to the rest of the senate however was that he was profitting alone off of this endeavour. As he was going to lease this off it would go towards other gas or oil barons in order to lighten his trails. There was speculation that Sinclair had given Fall gifts and money in return for the Teapot Dome lease, but Sinclair vehemently denied this.

People argued for and against the lease. Those in support argued that the contract would allow Wyoming to expand their market for oil and in turn increase the price of the state’s crude. People opposed to the lease argued that the leasing process should have included competitive bidding and public knowledge. Governor Robert Carey and former Governor B.B. Brooks felt that the reserve should be left untapped while there was a national surplus of petroleum, as there was. In January of 1924, the Senate voted that the oil leases were illegal. Senator Kendrick declared that the government lost millions of dollars leasing the naval reserves in the manner they did. Sinclair's Mammoth Oil Company was sued by the Federal District Court and Sinclair was indicted by a grand jury in Washington for contempt of the Senate as he refused to cooperate with investigators. Although Federal district Judge T. Blake Kennedy upheld the lease, the Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court overturned the decision and in May 1929, Sinclair went to jail. Fall appeared before the Supreme Court in October of 1929 and was tried for defrauding the government, conspiracy for the purpose of fraudulently disposing of the Teapot Dome and accepting a bribe. Fall's acceptance of gifts and bribes was his undoing. He was found guilty of accepting a bribe and was sentenced to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Prior to the Watergate Scandal in the 1970s under the presidency of Richard Nixon, this was one of the largest political scandals the United States was had gone through.

Women in Wyoming State Politics

Governor Nellie T. Ross of Wyoming with Governor George H. Dern of Utah, October 20, 1925

Wyoming has been nicknamed the "Equality State" because of the very progressive attitude of State policies towards women. Gaining the right to vote was a constant battle for women in the United States. At the turn of the twentieth century almost every state saw women’s rights movements mobilize to try to secure the vote for women and by 1869, the government of Wyoming had given women that right. This momentous occasion allowed for neighbouring states to follow Wyoming's example. The right to vote was not the only public policy that Wyoming pioneered for women's suffrage. Wyoming’s territorial legislature was the first government in the United States to grant a woman a position within the government. In 1894, Estelle Reel became the first woman to hold state office as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Wyoming also broke the gender barrier which prevented women from becoming leaders in politics. In 1924, the state elected Nellie Tayloe Ross as the first female Governor in the United States.

Nellie Ross, wife of Governor William B. Ross, played an avid role in her husband’s political works as governor of the state of Wyoming. When her husband passed away in 1924 while still in office, there was call for a new election. The Democratic Party nominated Nellie to run and continue her husband’s term. On January 5th, 1925, Nellie Ross won the election and became the first female governor in the United States. She had defeated her opponent by over eight thousand votes and went on to direct the United States Mint in Washington and acted as a spokesperson for Women’s Rights. Nellie Ross has become a prominent figure in women’s movements across the United States for her ability to gain the respect of men and become the first female governor, not only for the state of Wyoming, but for the entire nation of America. The diverse politics of Wyoming has helped establish a state that has the ability to place gender roles aside and is accepting of females in politics. Since its establishment as an official state in America in 1890, Wyoming has diminished the barriers surrounding other states by allowing females to hold political office, and has officially become the Equality State.

Contributions to World War II

WWII Bomber

Wyoming did not have a large presence in World War II, but nearly 10 percent of its population became soldiers. By the end of the war, 1,095 men from Wyoming had lost their lives. Prisoner of War (POW) camps were crucial installations throughout the United States and were created throughout the United States, although for the most part they were established in the southern states. Like many other States, Wyoming established these Camps, as well as Military Airfields. Wyoming's largest and most famous POW Camp was located in Douglas, Wyoming. At the height of the war, Camp Douglas held nearly 1,900 Italian prisoners and later, around 3,000 German prisoners. Along with the main camp in Douglas, there was another base camp in the city of Cheyenne, as well as smaller Branch camps all throughout Wyoming. Wyoming was also home to several Military Airfields that were established in order to train United States forces how to operate the fighters and bombers. Many of these Airfields have now been converted for public and commercial use. The most notable of these bases was the Francis E. Warren Air Base, which has remained one of Wyoming’s most historical sites. Unlike almost all other states, Wyoming did not attract war industries; however, the state’s resource industry, particularly coal, iron and oil thrived. Agriculture also assumed new importance based on a theory that “food will win the war!”

Japanese Internment

Democracy education at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center

In early 1941, the House Committee of un-American Activities had begun investigating the possibilities of Japanese espionage, but could not have predicted the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that occurred on December 7 1941. On December 8th 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Germany, Japan, and Italy thus entering the United States of America into World War II. Upon the country’s declaration of war, Wyoming began rounding up Japanese-Americans and immigrants and placing them into what was originally considered concentration camps until being renamed “internment” camps. Under the authority of the War Relocation Authority, the state of Wyoming arrested and interned these Japanese citizens. The "Nisei" individuals were Japanese Americans who were born in America. The "Issei" were Japanese immigrants who had clung on to their original customs and traditions. Finally the "Kibei" were Japanese-Americans who were born in America but who also went back and forth to Japan. To the American government none of these different subcultures had mattered as the country was under fear that anybody could be a spy for the Japanese government. These “interned” individuals were taken away from their homes and their possessions, placed in a secluded setting, which was set up similar to that of a small "community". Each "community" had its own hospital, education centre, and other necessities. Heart Mountain Relocation Center was located in Wyoming and was one of the main internment camps in the United states, holding 10,767 people at the peak of its population in 1943. The prominent difference between the internment camps and towns was that they were surrounded by barbed wire fences and did not allow anyone to leave. Following Executive Order 9066, American-Japanese citizens were to be jailed for no more than 4 years. The reasoning behind the arrest of these individuals was based solely on the fear caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor by their native country. Those Japanese-Americans who were studying in universities in other states, and those who managed to move to East-coast states, were able to dodge the internment because the fear was primarily on the West-coast. It should be noted that although they were not interned, they were not trusted by the American public, and thus were closely watched. In 1942 Japanese-Americans were designated as “undraftable because of ancestry”. However following January 20 1944 it was declared that for select service the Nisei were re-eligible to join the American war effort. As a whole this meant more freedom for the Japanese-Americans, and proper reintegration into civilization.

Heart Mountain Relocation Center

Wyoming since 1945

Wyoming since 1945




Since 1945, there have been a multitude of developments in Wyoming that have had both positive and negative impacts on the economy. During wartime there was a large demand for Wyoming’s oil, coal, lumber, and meat. After the war, the economy remained stable due to increased tourism and the discovery of two valuable minerals; Trona and Uranium. Trona was discovered in 1947 during routine oil drilling in southwestern Wyoming, and Uranium was discovered in 1951 during a geological survey in the Powder River basin. During the 1960's a new steel plant was constructed near Sunrise, which in turn acted as a catalyst in the development of Atlantic City. Two new power plants were opened to capitalize on Wyoming’s abundance of coal. This promised to be a steady market for coal, which had suffered slow-downs in the 1950’s. Wyoming a strong history of involvement with Natives from all over the state, dating back to the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. These strong cultural ties influence an immense amount of controversy within the state. In accordance to the reservation system and native population Wyoming's most important economic contributions have always come in the form of minerals, cattle, and tourism which is why Wyoming has been labelled as a “cowboy” state.

From War to Peace


After 1945, Wyoming began its transition into a peacetime state. This transition was largely symbolized by the shutting down of the Heart Mountain relocation camp, which was closed in November of 1945. Originally constructed in 1941 and opened in 1942, the Heart Mountain relocation center housed roughly 14,000 Japanese Americans throughout its duration, with as much as 11,000 people living there at a single time, making it the third highest populated area in Wyoming. Many Japanese Americans were reluctant to leave and begin their lives anew. Outside of the camp, local resentment of the Japanese made it particularly difficult to blend in with society again. However, the nearby towns of Cody and Powell allowed for former members of the internment camp to work in their towns.

Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

Throughout the 40's and 50's, Jackson Hole became a topic of dispute. John D. Rockefeller owned the land and had given it up to the park service to be turned into a national monument. The difficulties facing conservationists was partly due to increasing commercial exploitation of the area. Many fought the idea of a national recreation area in Jackson because it meant that 221,610 acres of land would be unavailable for taxation and settlement. However, by the 1950’s, conservationists had their way, and Jackson Hole became part of the Grand Teton National Park. The establishment of Grand Teton national park in 1950 ended a 30-year controversy over attempts to extend federal government control in Northwestern Wyoming and many inhabitants saw federal control, as a means of preservation. After World War II, when gas and tires became more readily available to civilians, tourism to the national park increased significantly. Since 1963, Grand Teton has attracted more people year round than its Northern neighbor, Yellowstone National Park, attracting 500,000 more tourists per year. The Grand Teton National Park has also attracted Hollywood productions on occasion, with movies being shot in Jackson Hole in the shadow of the Tetons. Movies such as "The Mountain Men" starring Charlton Heston in 1980, as well as the iconic training montage in the Hollywood classic "Rocky IV" staring Sylvester Stallone in 1985 have both been shot in Jackson Hole. The National park service along with John Rockefeller JR. preserved some of the most spectacular scenery in North America.

File:Wind River Reservation

Wind River Reservation


The Wind River Indian reservation is a native reserve located in central Wyoming with a population of approximately 11,000 and is the seventh largest Indian reservation in the country. The reserve spans 2.2 million acres, 70 miles east to west and 55 miles north to south. The Wind River Reservation is located along a water corridor and it provides a spiritual connection for the native dwellers. It was established on July 2nd, 1863 in the Fort Bridger Treaty, but was later revised to its current location in 1868. This treaty gave them a total of 44 million acres of land in Wyoming; it has now been reduced to its present size of 1.9 million acres. The Reservation is primarily home to two groups of native tribes, the Arapaho (4,500) and the Shoshone (2,500). They both retained the buffalo hunting tradition but they kept their separate cultural beliefs. The land had been traditionally held by the Shoshones for many centuries and the tribe had no intention of leaving it. Originally, the Arapaho were intended to have their own land and were put on the Shoshone land temporarily. When the U.S. government made it clear that Native Americans would be required to live on designated reservations, the Eastern Shoshone were allowed to choose the location of their permanent home. They chose to settle in the “Warm Valley of the Wind River,” which was their wintering area. However, when a new administration came to power in Washington, the relocation effort was abandoned, so in 1937 the reserve was recognized as being jointly owned by the two tribes. This caused conflict initially, as the tribes were forced to compete for food sources and good land, but they now manage to coexist with virtually no issues. Historically, this area has had a tremendous significance on American culture, as it was the home of the tribes that helped guide explorers Lewis and Clarke on their expedition of the Western United States. It is said that they were able to get along with the foreigner explorers based on the fact that they were always at war with every plains tribe. In fact, the cemetery located on the reserve is the final resting place of the famed Sacajawea, their guide and interpreter.

Wind River Reserve in Perspective
    The Wind River Indian Reservation is also important in Wyoming's history due to the fact that it was the first time that the Native Chief was able to negotiate for land that the tribe wanted. Chief Washakie is known as the legendary chief who was able to choose the land for his people; it was the only reservation chosen by any native group.  As most Native Chiefs were, Chief Washakie was a warrior first, then later took on the position of peacemaker for the tribe. He was able to see that in order to preserve his tribe's legacy he had a better chance of negotiating for land than defending the land against the new power of the settlers. The Chief was able to negotiate with the federal government during the formation of the Fort Bridge Treaty to have the land that would most benefit the tribes. Chief Washakie believed that it was the most beneficial to be on peaceful terms with the settlers rather than feuding with them. The white community had a strong relationship with the Chief, eventually naming a fort after him; this fort is now the oldest fort on the reservation. This also assisted in keeping the peace between the native and settler populations. As well as peace there is often war when there is government involvement in moving tribes around. In 1866, the displaced Crow tribe was forced to move into the Shoshone Wind River Reservation tribe's hunting territory. Chief Washakie sent a warrior messenger to the Crow Chief Big Robber explaining the predicament. Washakie told him that the Shoshone would allow the Crow tribe to hunt the Owl Creek Range as long as they left the Wind River Mountains to the Shoshone. Chief Big Robber believed that his tribe was better if not equal to the Shoshone and killed the warrior messenger. He sent a message back to Washakie stating he would hunt wherever he pleased. Washakie responded by gathering his allies and launched a surprise attack on the Crow tribe that lasted five days. Washakie was superior however out of the utter respect he had for Chief Big Robber, for his bravery, instead of scalping him he took out his heart and placed it at the end of his lance. This event gave Crowheart Butte its modern name. Among the local tribes the battle between Washakie and Big Robber distinguished who had control of the reservation. 

Despite its cultural significance, the Wind River reservation today stands as an appalling example of native poverty. Before 1945, the reservation flourished economically as it owned much of the land that the Wind River Basin is located on. This basin contains traces of an assortment of valuable natural resources, such as gold, coal, uranium, natural gas and oil. Due to the high value of these resources, it was an area of mining through the late 19th century and into the 20th. However, due to these extreme mining efforts, the resources of the basin have been all but extracted. In 1920, there was approximately 290,495 tons of coal extracted. Compare this with the 18,511 tons in 1942 and the mere 1,534 tons in 1960 and it is clear that the resources of the area are nearly depleted. The main development still functioning today is the energy industry that developed following World War II. A large oil boom created most of the revenue for the Wind River Reserve following World War I. The development on the reservation led to certain industries being produced throughout the community; first ranching, and then farming. Today that foundation is still in place, but to a lesser extent. Farming, for instance, has become more institutionalized. With the lack of economic opportunity in the area comes a lack of interest in maintain it. The governments gave the overseeing power to religious groups. The church was in charge of setting up schools, hospitals and other government buildings on the reserves that would assist their development. This also assisted in keeping the peace between the native and settler populations. In 1945 the Shoshone Episcopal Mission School (nicknamed “Robert’s Mission” for its founder Reverend John Roberts) was shut down. This school was located on land personally donated by Chief Washakie and was said to be sacred land. With a lack of decent education, living conditions on the reserve began to gradually decline.

Developing after 1945 was the success of the Arapaho ranch located on the Wind River Reservation. Prior to the construction of the Arapaho ranch in 1940, the Arapaho people were impoverished and struggling to meet the success of the Shoshone peoples. The ranch was developed to help instill a sense of business in the Arapaho, and to teach them to be self-sufficient. Initially the ranch ran into problems when the white male manager of the ranch only hired other white male ranch hands. This problem was solved in 1948, when it was decided that the hiring of workers would be left entirely to the native peoples. Soon into the 1950’s the ranch was declared a success after it paid back the $ 476, 217 that it owed to the Shoshone and having acquired around an additional half a million dollars in assets. It is noted that the Arapaho language distinguishes the differences between themselves and other Wyoming tribes, it originates from the Algonquin tribe language.

Ranch on the Wind River Reservation

Between the years 1945 to 1952 the number of livestock owned by the Arapaho more than doubled from roughly 600 to over 1,400. The ranches included cattle and sheep, other livestock was not as important (for example; dairy stock, hogs and chickens). The success continued into the 70’s where the ranch was viewed as a permanent, individually owned business enterprise that did business with many people outside of the reservation.

Today, the reservation is closer to a third world environment than an American territory. Life expectancy on the reserve is just 49 years, which incidentally is 20 years less than in Iraq. Furthermore, the high school dropout rate is at 40% and the unemployment rate is an astounding 80%, a terrifying figure considering the state average of Wyoming is 6%. It is noted that a large amount of delinquent juveniles are from the Wind River Reservation with charges consisting of minor in possession, public intoxication, or driving under the influence of alcohol. Through multiple studies it is estimated that every 3 out of 5 families are well below the poverty line. It is suggested that this is at the fault of the Bureau of Indian Affairs due to the economic shifts and changes in policies that the tribes have zero control of.With statistics such as these in mind, it is abundantly clear that the Wind River reserve is in drastic need of government assistance as well as general awareness from the public on the poverty associated with many reserves all across the country.

The Black 14


The civil rights movement of the 1960's and the racial tensions it created were not exclusive to the most populous states of the country but to every state and city in the United States, including Wyoming. At the time Wyoming was the least racially diverse state in the country. Recent statistics show Whites represent 85.5% of the population followed by Hispanics, American Indians, Blacks and other minorities. Yet despite this racial hegemony, discrimination persisted even with the Public Accommodations Act of 1957 in Wyoming, and civil rights laws passed by congress.

There was however a large representation of African-Americans involved in athletics at the University of Wyoming. This was primarily due to the strong commitment to athletics by the University president George Humphrey. He hired a team of prominent directors, coaches, and scouts led by head coach Lloyd Eaton to bring prospective athletes from across the country to play for the school's football team. In 1969, the Wyoming Cowboys were set to play the Brigham Young University (BYU) Cougars, a university located in Utah, a state where 62% of the population is Mormon. Before the game on Friday, October 17th, 14 of the African-American players requested a meeting with coach Eaton to discuss the policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (known more colloquially as the LSD Church or the Mormon Church) and how they planned to protest these policies by wearing black arm bands in the next game, commonly used as a symbol of mourning in the athletic world, in this case it was intended to symbolize the suppression of their inalienable religious rights. The Coach's response was to suspend all 14 players from the team. The policies of the church claimed that men of colour could not become priests, and were denied the right to worship in other areas of the church. The suspension brought athletics into the issue of civil rights. The University of Wyoming received considerable coverage for denying the students their first amendment rights and its reputation was severely damaged, though they claimed the suspension was disciplinary and in no way reflected the suppression of their rights or indifference to their situation.

It was due to this incident that all but one of the fourteen men left the university. Yet despite the discrimination and animosity, ten of the fourteen would go on to graduate from college and of those ten, four went on to have careers in the National Football League, most notably Tony McGee who played eleven seasons for three different teams, and Tony Gibson, who played for the New England Patriots. Despite these impressive careers, the issue was not truly settled until June 1st 1978 when the President of the Church changed Mormon doctrine to enable men of all colours to be priests.

American Bison In Hayden Valley.

Resource Economy of the 21st Century


Wyoming contributed to sustaining a substantial part of the agricultural sector in the United States for most of the 20th century. Specifically, this is evident within the cattle industry. After WWII, there were rapid migrations towards Western states and consequently, the market for cattle had expanded greatly. In 1947 the vast state of California acquired more cattle from Wyoming then from the prominent cattle states, such as Illinois and Iowa. Wyoming's dominance in the beef industry is apparent in land use statistics following the war. Mid-20th century Wyoming, saw approximately 40 percent of the state's 97,914 square miles being used for farm and ranch land. By the 50's however, there seemed to be a shift in focus on new and undiscovered sources of energy. Economic development for the state of Wyoming was hindered during this time period as it maintained great focus on rural agriculture. Clinging to the image of the cowboy, the state lacked the strong business image necessary to survive in the contemporary economic realm. In reality, only 4 percent of the population worked on ranches or farms. Post-war era witnessed a migration from rural farm land to the urban areas. This was due in large part to the lack of job opportunity and long periods of drought which swept Wyoming during the 50's. These population shifts were successful in creating new markets and expanding those previously established. The oil industry continued to flourish undeterred, men returning from WWII took positions in many of the new and existing oil refineries throughout the state. Cheyenne's Frontier Refinery and Sinclair facilities were the sources of job creation for hundreds of returning veterans. During this period came the discovery of large deposits of uranium in Southern Campbell county and deposits of Trona near Green river. By this time ambitious entrepreneurs and businessman flooded the state and began drilling for undiscovered minerals. The deepest well in the country was drilled in West poison Spider Field at 14,309 feet. The discovery of uranium led to a modern day gold rush, uranium exceeded coal in production for the first time during the early 50's. . Uranium is the main ingredient in nuclear weapons, and the Cold War was an era in which the United States was in a nuclear arms race with Soviet Russia. This entailed that any state who had large deposits of Uranium would prosper. Wyoming fell in this category as multiple mining expenditures were launched to find this ingredient. Wyoming experienced economic productivity from these ventures but the pursuit of uranium proved to be a double edged sword. These mining areas were not safe or suitable communities for citizens and as more ventures took place; the population in the immediate area decreased. When the uranium ventures ended, a period of decline took place as the communities then became empty and unproductive. For example; Jeffrey City, Wyoming had a population of four thousand prior to becoming a hotbed for uranium mining. After the venture, only 25 percent of the population remained.

Wyoming's dependency on natural resources for economic growth continued during the 70's. Refineries in Casper, Thermopolis, Sinclair, Cheyenne, Newcastle, Greybull provided revenue for the expansion of urban areas throughout the state. Refineries under the command of Texaco, and Standard Oil produced million of barrels of oil, these large companies established offices in nearby counties. The oil embargo in 1973 by Arab countries saw the sharp increase in price for gasoline. Oil exploration increased in the state, multi-national corporations saw the attraction of Wyoming and the opportunities it provided. Coal became crucial during this time due to the increasing demand by electric power plants. Wyoming was the 3rd fastest growing state in the United States from 1970 to 1980, the population increased 41 % from 332,416 to 469,557. This drastic increase in population also presented many social issues for the state. Lack of available housing, schools unable to adapt to the influx of new students, demand for social services, increase in crimes, lack of law enforcement officers. The State government was brought in to help with the mass social disorganization. Even in the midst of relative economic prosperity in the mineral production industry and a great boom specifically in the 1970s, greater industrial growth did not occur and the boom did not last. Between 1981 and 1996 over half of the jobs in the mining sector were lost, due largely to the lack a major urban centre that was necessary to sustain the business economy.

Wyoming's economy in the 21st century is driven primarily by tourism, natural resources, and agriculture. Starting out as a predominantly agricultural society during the 19th century the state has become increasingly dependent on the extraction of non-renewable resources to fuel its economy, including coal, natural gas and a variety of ores such as copper and gold. Agriculture however still plays an important role in the state, more than a means of production, it represents a way of life for the citizens of Wyoming.

Approximately 90% of land in Wyoming is described as rural, 37% of the states population live in rural communities of 2500 people or less, their primary source of income is through farming of crops and livestock. The State consists of 11,000 farms with the average farm size at 2,726 acres.The population of livestock far exceeds the amount of people in the state, recent estimates suggest over one million cattle, and more then 800,000 sheep. It is also one of the top producers of beef in the country. Although the beef industry suffered a set-back during the 80's due to increased public demand for healthier food, and lean meat, the industry has since revamped its efforts in providing a variety of products which take into account the concerns of the customer. The value of Wyoming's agriculture industry is around 943 million dollars making it the third largest industry in the state.

Almost half (48%) of the land in Wyoming is owned by the Federal government. Federal agencies exercise heavy control over the state's grazing, logging, and mining, which often leads to conflicts between the different levels of government. Conflicts can also arise in other areas such as issues of wildlife conservation. In 2012, the Federal government dispensed with policies intended to ensure the protection of wolves in Wyoming, citing the increase in population. Wildlife agencies at the state level had worked for years to save the at-risk animal from extinction in the state. This recent lift of protection would allow the hunting and killing of wolves, which would undermine the efforts made during years spent to save the species.

The tourism industry in Wyoming had its early beginnings during the boom of the 70's, however it seemed largely unorganized and reactionary, with hotels and small organizations making some effort to take advantage of the influx of new people arriving in the state. Since then, tourism has become the second largest industry in Wyoming grossing over 2.8 billion dollars annually. In 2010, the total number of tourists increased by 4% bringing in 8.34 million people. The tourism industry also provides employment for over 28,000 people. The main attractions of Wyoming are its national parks, especially Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park. It is estimated that 30% of visitors to the national parks are from overseas. The visitors are attracted to the small towns, friendly people, and the lush green scenery of Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park

Not surprisingly, Wyoming's largest industry is the natural resources industry. While the 40s and 50s experienced a decline due to alternative fuels available; the 70s saw a boom as new technologies such as strip mining were created. Developments such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 also bolstered this increase. Coal remains as one of Wyoming’s most important staples to this day as Wyoming remains the number one producer of coal in the country; it has 45,055 square miles underlain by coal, producing over 438.5 million tons of coal in 2011, and it represents 40% of total coal production in the country. The mining industry alone provided 16 billion dollars in revenue for the state in 2011. Wyoming is also the leading producer of soda ash, betonite[check spelling] clays, and uranium. 33% of the uranium industry workforce in the U.S is represented by Wyoming. The state also has the largest deposits of trona in the world near Green River, making it one of Wyoming's most valuable minerals.

Wyoming also leads in the production of natural gas and crude oil. Out of the 23 counties in the state, 20 of them are responsible for the production of either crude oil or natural gas. Figures in 2010 show the sale of 53.1 million barrels of crude oil and 2,517 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Wyoming is the 2nd best producer of natural gas and the 7th best producer of crude oil in the country. Wyoming's strong energy industry is the reason for the states continued stability in face of the 2008 financial crisis. Since 2010 the job growth rate of Wyoming has been faster than the U.S average. The unemployment rate continues to decrease from 5.3% compared to the U.S rate of 8.3%. Wyoming has shown its dependency on natural resources to build a stronger economy throughout history, and in order to maintain this growth the state must continue to build and create new industries if its aim is to become a driving force for the 21st century.



Wyoming benefits off sectors such as mining, cattle breeding, and tourism but its lack of diversification has given it scrutiny. Scholars such as Frieda Knobloch have criticized the government for depending too highly on these specific sectors. Moreover, they argue that the federal government owns almost half of the state, which impedes economic productivity. The Federal government's control in Wyoming limits the free market and prevents any competitive gains. This is a huge problem for Wyoming which makes this state fundamentally different than many others. Wyoming was certainly in a better position economically after the Second World War but a diversification of their economy remains to be seen.

The Wagon Wheel Project

US Atomic Energy Commission logo

Wyoming was not home to the typical post-war military nuclear testing; however, the state has its own unique nuclear history regarding Project Wagon Wheel. Through the US Atomic Energy Commission and the El Paso Natural Gas Company, plans were created to use underground nuclear explosions to help extract Wyoming’s natural gas reserves. In the late 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission took interest in obtaining natural gas from the large reservoir in Wyoming. At the time, natural gas was highly valued, thus many corporations saw this obtainment as a smart investment. The Atomic Energy Commission had strong backing for natural gas extraction from oil and gas corporations, and most importantly, the federal government. Wyoming’s nuclear history begins with the El Paso Natural Gas Company buying the vast natural gas fields that lay under Wyoming and specifically under Sublette County. Despite initially being unable to reach gas, El Paso proposed to the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1958 that nuclear energy could be used to help acquire the natural gas. The Atomic Energy Commission quickly sanctioned four nuclear tests throughout the American mid-west under its plowshare program to spread peaceful nuclear energy.

Throughout the 1960s, nuclear blasting practices were conducted to see if these procedures could in fact extract marketable natural gas. Testing sites were situated in both Colorado and New Mexico, and in their trials, the Atomic Energy Commission managed to gather a substantial amount of natural gas. Thus, nuclear blasting procedures were contracted to Sublette County, Wyoming, and this contract was heavily influenced by the El Paso Gas Company. The fourth and largest experimental nuclear test, dubbed project Wagon Wheel by national media, would be located 19 miles south-southeast of Pinedale, Wyoming. El Paso estimated some 300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas might be in the region and began designing their largest experimental explosion. El Paso and the AEC planned to explode five 100-kiloton nuclear warheads in a single well from 9 000 – 18 000 feet below the surface. Furthermore, the explosions had to be detonated individually in sequence to conform to nuclear treaties limiting the size of detonations.

Location of Pinedale, Wyoming in Sublette County

Little research had been conducted to examine the consequences of nuclear blasting. Research developed in the late 1960s, and people began to worry about their personal safety, and the safety of their drinking water. As plans for the project began to develop further, people became more skeptical and had a greater concern for the effect of nuclear blasting on their crops, wildlife, and livestock.

The Wagon Wheel Information Committee (WWIC) was formed by a group of concerned citizens who began to educate themselves on the effects of nuclear blasting. The WWIC began to worry tremendously about their beef industry, which contributed heavily to the Wyoming economy. The WWIC discovered that the aftermath of blasting could result in the grass becoming contaminated with tritium, a poisonous substance. In turn, the cattle would consume this grass, and thus contaminate their beef and milk.

Public outcry emerged in March of 1972, as the local government and citizens of Sublette County strongly opposed the federal government’s Wagon Wheel Project. The committee raised questions about the inevitable contamination of wildlife and why El Paso decided to cut costs and burn-off radioactive material instead of safely storing it. The AEC maintained there was a low risk to humans but local opposition continued to mount in Sublette. The WWIC was limited by Wyoming statutes prohibiting votes on public policy so they held an unofficial “straw vote” in November 1972 instead. The results of the pool were overwhelmingly against project Wagon Wheel with 78% of citizens voting against the test. Meanwhile, the WWIC wrote Senator Cliff Hanson formally requesting him to set up a meeting in Washington for February 5th. Ten community citizens of Sublette met with AEC and the Environmental Protection Agency where they demanded Wagon Wheels cancellation and even appeared on the Today Show. The coming winter also brought opposition from Congress where Wyoming’s lone congressman, Teno Roncalio, showed that the previous nuclear tests had been more costly than their possible gas revenue. President Nixon's budget plan did not even provide the project with funds until 1977. The fact that the Wagon Wheel Project was never funded, the combined pressure from the WWIC and Roncalio’s economic arguments helped de-fund the Wagon Wheel project, which never received the government grants it required.

The Wagon Wheel Project further demonstrated the importance of beef for the Wyoming economy. This project could have potentially jeopardized that industry with nuclear fallout and contamination. Project Wagon Wheel also reflects the continuous conflict between local and federal governments in Wyoming after World War II and how local power had some influence in public policy. In 1974 El Paso used the Wagon Wheel shaft to test a form of hydraulic fracturing to acquire gas which ultimately failed sealing off the hole and was never reopened.

Wyoming Tourism


Wyoming tourism began to develop as an industry in the late 1880s, offering a wide range of places to go, things to see, and activities for tourists. Tourism in Wyoming revolves around its natural beauty, wildlife, and its history of ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ with some places called the "last of the Old West".

Wyoming tourism was initiated around 1887 when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was at its height of popularity, and residents began opening dude ranches.

Yellowstone National Park poster, circa 1938

Dude ranches drew in many Eastern European tourists who wished to experience the mountains; this particular branch of tourism peaked in the early 1900s, and experienced dramatic decline in the 1930s. After World War II, the Wyoming’s tourism industry exploded, allowing it to expand its resources and the variety of activities for visitors. Teddy Roosevelt’s conservationist efforts also helped endorse Wyoming tourism. Teddy Roosevelt named the state the home of the first National Monument (Devils Tower) in 1906. In more recent years, the tourist industry has slowed down. Wyoming residents still continue to enhance tourism within the state by increasing both the number and variety of attractions. Tourists are most often drawn to Wyoming for the natural physical attractions of the state. In 1872, Wyoming became home to Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world. Shoshone Forest and Devils Tower were also appointed the first National Forest (in 1891), and the first National Monument, respectively. The state is home to the town of Jackson Hole, a popular resort valley surrounded by Rocky Mountains, popularized as a tourist destination due to the work of conservationists like Horace Albright. Jackson is home to numerous attractions such as the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival, a Lake Lodge, a Mountain Resort, and the National Elk Refuge, where thousands of elk reside each winder. Sleigh rides among the elk take place from mid-December through April. Wyoming is also home to Grand Teton National Park, which attracted more than 2,500,000 people in 1965 alone, as well as many other historical sites, parks, and monuments.

Photo of Devils Tower, 1890 by John C. H. Grabill

Devils Tower is of particular importance to tourism as it attracts over 400,000 people each year. Established on September 24th 1906, in Crook County,the formation rises 1,267 above the surrounding terrain for an overall elevation of 5,112 feet above sea level.

As technology developed, the variety of tourist activities grew. At dude ranches, tourists can horseback ride, canoe or raft, fish, and participate in guided hiking or wilderness pack trips. If visitors are interested in arts and culture, there are many places where they can explore Native American culture and art, cowboy singers, and local craftspeople. There are several fairs and festivals in Wyoming, such as the Annual Celtic Festival, Wyoming Brewers Festival, and Gold Rush Days for cultural explorers, as well as weekly small-town rodeos. For tourists who are more interested in nature, there are several national parks to visit and scenic by-ways for road trips; travelers can also pan for gold, bird-watch, hunt, mountain bike, visit hot springs, and rock hound to experience the outdoors. If visitors are more active and adventurous, ATV riding, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, and cavern tours are available. In the winter, tourists can participate in cross-country and downhill skiing, ice climbing, dogsledding, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Despite the success of many conservationists, who have worked hard to ensure that Wyoming tourist destinations remain places of natural beauty and recreation, there remains an ongoing conflict between conservationism and commercialism.

More recent studies in Wyoming have found that historic sites produce more profit and have a greater positive economic impact than other activities in the state’s tourism industry; however, the state may be slow to develop more sites due to the high cost of doing so. Wyoming residents are still seeking ways to improve tourism and appeal to wider ranges of people. For example, Jackson Hole has introduced new ways of drawing in tourists, through the installment of relaxing spa retreats to typical tourist attractions.



Wyoming utilizes a sales tax while avoiding a state income tax and also implemented a mineral severance tax in 1969, which effectively cuts a percentage of the industries profits. Severance taxes provide nearly one third of the states budget. The constitution of Wyoming unlike others states confers state ownership of water resources, which has resulted in litigation with downstream states over water rights.

Almost 50 percent of the states land is under federal control. Problems between state and federal industries are usually because of corporations desiring further control over federal lands.

Nuclear Weapons


The history of nuclear weapons in Wyoming stems from the creation of the F.E. Warren Air Force base, which has no airplanes. It is however, one of the largest missile command bases in the nation. The first deployment of Atlas missiles were established in 1960. The missiles were scattered in ranching country across southeast Wyoming. The deployment of the first 24 Atlas missiles in Cheyenne did not create much controversy. The base had always been considered a good neighbor, and the federal spending that came along with the base provided a good economic boost for the community. Safety concerns have plagued the base since the early 1980s, with a series of accidents surrounding the MX missiles.

Richard Cheney


In 1978, Richard "Dick" Cheney was elected to Wyoming’s sole seat in the House of Representatives and was re-elected five times. Cheney grew up in Casper, and attended the University of Wyoming. In 1995 Cheney became the president and CEO of the Halliburton Company. Cheney later became Vice President under George W. Bush on the Republican ticket in 2000.

Yellowstone National Park, 1872 to present

National Parks Development and Organization


To understand Yellowstone National Park's importance in Wyoming history, one must look at how national parks began to expand into educational, organized resources for the public in the United States of America.

A 1938 poster done by the Ranger Naturalist Service in the hopes of bringing more people to experience the natural history of Yellowstone.

In the late 19th century, it became apparent there was need for a sense of organization and management within national parks, which both were sorely lacking. This was an issue which began to draw attention early into the 20th century. At this time, Washington was dominated by men of science, and these individuals were vocal in promoting protection of parks because of the lessons they felt the public could learn from the natural history within national parks. When those also voicing opinions on a need for an organization asked for help in promoting educational and scientific use of national parks, many of the prominent Washington scientists responded. This lead to the creation of the National Parks Association (NPA).

Stephen Tyng Mather (first director of the United States National Park Service) and his staff in Washington, D.C., 1927 or 1928. From left to right: Arno B. Cammerer, Arthur E. Demaray, Stephen T. Mather, George A. Moskey and Horace M. Albright.

The creation was made official on May 19th, 1919 in Washington, D.C. A small group of notable male figures such as J. Walter Fewkes, a prominent anthropologist, H.K Bush-Brown, a sculptor famous in the United States and many more got together and signed articles of incorporation to form the NPA. The NPA was not the only service advocating for the conservation and protection of parks.

There was also the National Park Service (NPS). An important part of the NPS was educating the public about national parks. Two prominent figures at this time were Stephen Mather and Horace Albright. During the early efforts of Mather and Albright, it grew clear that there was a need for an organized national park system. For congress to recognize such a need and pass the proper legislation, Mather and Albright worked to generate public support for national parks, increasing accessibility and publicity. The NPS sought to establish firm educational standards for the national parks. It was on August 25, 1916 that Congress passed legislation giving birth to the NPS. The “Organic Act” as it was called, laid out the basic mission the NPS wished to achieve: “to conserve the scenery and natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future nations.” The significance of the NPS was extremely important for national park's growth and development. NPS Bureau Historian, Barry Mackintosh, believes that the NPS, as well as systematic park administration, paved the way for comparable agencies. As time passed, parks grew significantly more organized, manageable, and educational, thanks to organizations like the NPA and the NPS.

Early Years and Animal Protection


Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872 by Ulysses S. Grant, covers more than 3300 square miles in area. While mostly located in the upper northwest corner of Wyoming, parts of Yellowstone also extend into Idaho and Montana. For generations, people from all over the world have come to Yellowstone to experience everything that it has to offer, including the geysers, animals, and scenery. Among the people attracted to Yellowstone were poachers, drawn by the large variety and number of animals in the park. In 1886, the Secretary of the Interior took more action to protect the park and Yellowstone came

Grizzly Bear at Yellowstone

under military jurisdiction. In 1894, greater action was taken and the Lacey Act was passed by Congress which gave full protection to wildlife in Yellowstone Park, with the exception of wolves and coyotes. This paved the way for future wildlife and environmental movements. The Lacey Act also imposed a $1000 fine on anyone who was convicted of shooting bison. Regardless, by 1902 there were less than 25 bison in some herds.

Moose in Yellowstone

Eventually bison from private ranches in Texas and Montana were brought into Yellowstone and managed intensively like cattle until 1936. Other animals that roam the park include bears, moose, coyotes, elk, and the Pronghorn antelope. In addition to bison, bears were also a main attraction of Yellowstone. For hundreds of years they wandered the park, eating berries, shrubs, and carcasses of winter killed bison and elk, but once humans arrived they disrupted the bears natural habitat. By the 1930s the bears search for food became troublesome, and with campgrounds popping up the bears were beginning to eat from the garbage. By the 1960s, it had gotten so far out of hand that the bears were approaching cars and begging for food. Yellowstone had to initiate an intensive bear management program to restore the grizzly and black bears' subsistence on natural foods. As part of the program, regulations that prohibited the feeding of bears was strictly enforced. The park is also home to elk, which is has the most abundant large animal population within Yellowstone. With the forest fires destroying their most heavily relied on source of food, the Douglas-fir, the moose population is also consistently decreasing. In this way, Yellowstone has a fragile ecosystem which has to be carefully managed.

Yellowstone and the Civilian Conservation Corps


The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was vital force in the development of national parks across the United States. Developed after World War I and during the Depression, this organization aimed to help decrease the number of unemployed youths in America. As a result of devastation from the war, the jobs provided by the CCC often involved forms of environmental restoration and disaster-prevention. There was a very strong sense of the need to re-create beauty among nationally and publicly recognized sites. To achieve this, many members of the CCC were put to work creating camp grounds and buildings within the national parks, many of which still exist today. The CCC are known to have helped to generate Acadia National Park (Maine), Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona), and Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), among others.

The CCC was also vital to the restoration of Yellowstone National Park in the 1930s. In the height of the depression, funding for maintenance and improvements for national parks was scarce. As a result, public attendance at Yellowstone decreased by 12% in 1931, 3% during 1932, and 29% in 1933, and threatened to continue declining if action was not taken. To stop this trend, the Franklin Roosevelt government provided Yellowstone with a group of CCC workers who were mainly responsible for the construction of lodgings and camping areas, as well as garages for the Yellowstone employees. Some of these projects included the Lamar Buffalo Ranch and the residential area just below Mammoth headquarters. They were also responsible for basic maintenance of trails, basic security, and environmental protection against forest fires, invasive pests, and overpopulation.

Another main contributing factor to the decline of Yellowstone in this period were the forest fires that raged during 1931. These fires devastated the forests in the park, removing a significant amount of the natural beauty. With the goal of beautification in mind, the CCC workers developed a nursery where they grew trees to replace those that had perished in the fires. This nursery provided all the greenery for the park’s reforestation and beautification projects. The CCC were also in charge of developing fire-prevention methods to avoid another similar tragedy. They organized a flying squad to monitor designated areas for signs of fire outbreaks, as well as specialized crews on the ground.

Without the construction and beautification efforts of the CCC, the revival of Yellowstone would not have been possible.

Bison and Wolves in Yellowstone National Park

Bison near a hot spring in Yellowstone

It is estimated that bison arrived in the Yellowstone area before the most recent period of intermountain glaciation. By synthesizing several historical accounts from the time, it is believed that the bison population in Yellowstone in the mid-1800s exceeded one thousand. At this time, the area that become Yellowstone National Park was recognized through treaties as Indian territory. The Shoshone, Bannock, Crow, and Blackfeet bands had lived in the Yellowstone region for over 8,000 years and many other groups often visited the area. However, when Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, the land was seized from these tribes.

This appropriation was the beginning of the demise of the bison. Not only were the bison hunted for sport, both within and outside the park boundaries, but there was also a market for bison meat and hides for tanning. This demand inspired a surge in poachers who killed the bison indiscriminately. Others were captured for private herds. Despite the dramatic effect of poachers on the bison population, the most damage to the herds was done by the federal government. While the original mission of Yellowstone National Park was to protect the wildlife, it was quickly realized that by controlling the bison, one could control the Indians. Fueled by racial discrimination, the government dispatched soldiers with the express purpose of slaughtering the bison in order to control the ‘Indian problem’. By the late 1880s, nearly every Indian tribe was forced out of Yellowstone and confined to reservations and by 1902, only 23 bison remained in Yellowstone, the only native free-roaming herd in the country. With the passage of the Lacey Act in 1894, the bison were finally protected.

The bison were not the only animal threatened in Yellowstone National Park during this time period. Predator control was enforced in the park after its inception and the Northern Rocky Mountain wolves, native to the Yellowstone area, were specifically targeted. It is reported that at least 136 wolves were killed in the park between 1914 and 1926 and thousands more were killed outside the park boundaries. Many settlers in Wyoming feared the wolves and when the wolves occasionally targeted ranchers’ livestock, the overarching public attitude at the time equated wolves with vermin and sought their extinction. The preferred method of extermination used by wolf hunters was poisoned animal carcasses. By the 1940s, wolves were rarely reported within the park, and by the 1970s, there were no signs of a wolf population at all.

Wolf Reintroduction in Yellowstone

The regrowth of both the bison and wolf populations has been relatively successful. By 1954, the bison population had already increased to 1,477 and today it averages over 3,000 in a typical year. Wolves were first reintroduced in 1995, but not without controversy, with the Wyoming government still listing wolves as predators and many in the farming communities actively opposed to the idea. Despite the debate, the reintroduction went ahead and the wolf population in 2011 was recorded as at least 98 wolves in 10 packs, showing a real success.

Wyoming in Popular Culture, 1868-present




The state of Wyoming has had its impact on American culture as strongly as any other state. Known for its sprawling mountain ranges, grass plains and low population density, Wyoming has been a romanticized part of American culture for over a hundred years. In the days of the Wild West, Wyoming was full of buffalo herds and cowboys. Wyoming was originally inhabited by the Crow, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute Indians, and the "Cowboys and Indians" theme of Wyoming was popularized across America by Buffalo Bill and his Wild West troupe. His circus-like attraction included stories from cowboys and Native Americans, feats of skill, staged races and other attractions.

Stuffed Jackalope in restaurant near Death Valley

The state has also inspired the myth of the Jackalope, which has become almost legendary in American mythology. A "killer rabbit", the Jackalope gets its name for having the body of a rabbit and antlers like an antelope. The Jackalope was supposedly discovered by Douglas Herrick in 1982, and stuffed "Jackalopes" have since become a popular addition to many American households, hotels and bars.

Wyoming is also notable for the many landmarks it has. Jackson Hole, Yellowstone National park and the Devils Tower are some important ones. Jackson Hole is a large valley located near the western border of Idaho, containing grasslands surrounded by picturesque mountain ranges. Yellowstone National Park is perhaps more widely known than Jackson Hole. It was the first national park in the world to be established. It possesses very unique, almost undisturbed ecosystems, a still active volcano and multitude of geysers, the most well known being "Old Faithful".

Old Faithful Geyser

Devil's Tower, located in Crook County was the first United States National Monument. Theodore Roosevelt established it as a national monument on September 24, 1906. It is a large igneous intrusion that rises over a thousand feet above the surrounding plains. Devil's tower was an important part of Native American folklore and is held scared by many. Today, it is a popular spot for climbers and sightseers.

Mountain meadow at Yellowstone

Wyoming's unique landscape, national parks and mountain ranges make it perfect for outdoor activities. Skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking are all popular and attract people from around the world.

Panoramic view of snowy mountains of the Teton Range, looking west from Jackson Hole.

Cowboys and the Wild West Ideal


One of the most iconic images brought to mind when asked about Wyoming is the cowboy and the "Old West" ideal. The Western cowboy image is one of a young man on horseback, wearing a Stetson, and taming the wild land. The cowboy is a character that has been a part of the Western image for a long time. Wyoming has long been known as a picturesque, beautiful, wild and untamed scene by the Eastern states that was ripe for plunder and discovery. This image of Wyoming lead to the creation of Yellowstone National Park and the dude ranches of the 19th century. The cowboy grew in popularity out of this idea because of his perceived intense connection with the wild nature which was lacking in urban states. During the 19th century, when many Eastern states were industrializing, the cowboy became the image that represented the idea of returning to nature, and the wild, untamed, and unconquered ideal of the west.

The Cowboy 1887

In the 1880s there was a great increase in the establishment of dude ranches, or guest ranches, which provided closer lodgings to Yellowstone National Park. Until that time, the park was comparatively unattainable to those who were not wealthy because it would have consisted of a very long journey. This created an increased stream of tourists into the state and helped solidify the idea of the rough, untamed land of Wyoming. The surge of tourism in the early twentieth century coincides with, and partially caused, the increasing popularity of the Wild West shows which maintained the idea that Wyoming was an exciting place filled with adventure where iconic western figures ruled the land. These Wild West themed performances, for example the Buffalo Bill shows, changed the idea of the cowboy, from someone who held a monotonous, lonely job to an American hero of the west. This hero embodied the strength, determination and rugged appeal of the Western frontier.

The popular image of the cowboy today refers to the idealized image of the past frontier life. In reality, this life was not as romantic or heroic as it has been made out to be. The real cowboys of the Wild West were often single men moving along with their herd, leading a nomadic life. Nature did not make it easy for them, taking a toll on both the men and their animals. The cowboy image created a romantic depiction of the west, it was a place where each man could succeed and could make something of himself. Cowboys in Wyoming represented the idealized past, a nostalgia for the untamed land and simple living.

Modern example of a dude ranch in the west.

Dude ranches are still popular throughout the States, and especially in Wyoming. They have come a long way since the early days of western expansion and offer 5 star longings, shopping areas and other tourist attractions. These ranches have transformed into a resort style business with outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts. They still possess the classic Wyoming ideals of rodeos, trail rides, hiking and hunting but with a twenty-first century twist.

Frontier Days and the Rodeo


The rodeo is an iconic image of Western American culture, such as in the state of Wyoming, has remained an American tradition for over a century. The rodeo combines multiple elements of the Western culture into an event that consists of competitions, displays of skill, and performances that involve animals, Native Americans, horse back riding, as well as rope, knife and gun tricks. Rodeos started travelling to the Atlantic US in the 1880s lead by “Buffalo Bill”,

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody

also known as William Cody. For many Eastern Americans the actions and culture depicted in the rodeos shaped their view of the Wyoming "Wild West."

Popular culture saw the rodeo as an arena of courage, strength, and tenacity but the injuries caused by such dangerous actions were a serious and hidden reality. Common injuries such as concussions and broken bones were and still are damaging to an individual’s body, but a less obvious danger was infection and disease. The rodeo arena was covered with animal waste and pathogens that created an unhygienic threat for anybody who came in contact with the space. When a performer was thrown from an animal, the impact with the toxic ground could create fresh wounds and expose them to infection. With poor living conditions and constant travel from one venue to another, infections were likely to become a serious and possibly life-threatening health concern. These problems were kept out of the public eye to maintain the popular culture perception of the invincible Western cowboy.

For much if its history, the rodeo has been a strong advertiser of cigarettes. This has lead to the coupling of cigarettes and cowboys in the rodeo which has been later seen in western movies. Mainly after the mid-twentieth century, cigarette companies, specifically smokeless cigarettes, have created their own image of the western cowboy through advertising and product placement. Most stereotypical cowboy imagery stems from cigarette advertisements.

Although rough riding and roping shows appear to have existed in the mid 19th century, the first official rodeo show is attributed to Lander, Wyoming in 1893. From here on, many rodeo shows continued to bring forth entertainment to the public. Closely following the first show, Laramie, Wyoming introduced a rodeo show along with the new addition of 'bronco bucking' in 1895. A reward of twenty five dollars was even offered to anyone who brought a horse which no one could ride. A similar show was held the following year, pulling in at least 1,000 people who came to watch the wild shows. Despite the popularity of these yearly rodeo competitions, the city of Cheyenne stole the spotlight from Laramie by hosting a "Wild West" themed show, called Frontier Days. The first of which was held September, 1897.

The 1901 Frontier Days was held on August 28th and 29th. Two months leading up to this show, there was a contest for providing ideas for the upcoming show and whoever submitted the best idea for the event received a ten dollar prize. The contest was a rather ingenious idea from the Frontier Days Committee as many ideas were submitted. The committee benefited immensely by obtaining a huge list of ideas in which they didn't have to think up and also did not have to pay for any of the new ideas. They only had to pay the winner of the contest with the best idea. This contest allowed them to spend very little and in return get a list of events people wanted to see in order for the shows to benefit them in the long run. Some of the events included masquerade balls that were added to the shows in 1900 and vaudeville performances also incorporated into the shows in 1901.

On the front page of the Cheyenne Daily Leader on June 24th, 1901, they had the headline "Greatest Wild West in the World". The article was referring to the eighth annual Frontier Days on August 30th and 31st. Some of the new events added were car races, as people were bringing vehicles from as far away as Denver, Colorado. The article claimed that "more than 1000 cowboys, cowgirls, Indians, United States troops, etc." would be "riding in the area at one time in a wild and indescribable rout of horseflesh and humanity." Special rates were offered by Union Pacific to promote more tourism in the area by bringing customers in from farther away. Highlights of the two-day show included a gymkhana race, and re-enactments of key events in Wyoming history including mock weddings and elections.

Annual Frontier Celebration, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1910

By 1922, the Frontier Days Committee was focusing on giving visitors a true western experience as they encouraged natives to wear "Western garb" to the events. Even World War Two could not stop the Frontier Days from going on. However, the rest of the state did not enjoy the tourism rates as much as Cheyenne managed to garner. They were continually out-shined by the state's national parks. The shows and rodeos outside of Cheyenne were mostly attended by natives of Wyoming.

The Frontier is still an annual event in Cheyenne, and runs for 10 days at the end of July. Many events have been added to the rodeo in recent years, including a Wild West Museum and Indian Village where the history of Wyoming is proudly documented. Over time, out of state tourism has declined which has caused the Frontier to modernize the rodeo, trying to appeal to a younger demographic. Lady Antebellum, the popular American country music band, will be performing at the 2013 Frontier as a pull for younger attendants and increased revenue.

Bucking Horse and Rider


The two symbols most associated with the state of Wyoming may very well be the cowboy and his horse. Though the date is much debated, the symbol called “The Bucking Horse and Rider” was first used in 1918 where it was worn by members of Wyoming’s National Guard whilst fighting in France and Germany in the First World War. The logo was originally designed by First Sergeant George N. Ostrom and was soon after adopted by the United States Army as a means of identifying gun trails, trucks, helmets and other equipment. Units were ordered to come up with a symbol that could be stenciled to their equipment on the battlefield and the bucking horse and rider was born. “At this time we were in intensive combat and my battery commander asked me how we could possibly comply with this request,” Wyoming cattle rancher Ostrom commented.The commander of the 66th Artillery Brigade was so taken by the design he cancelled all other designs and began putting the insignia on all the equipment. Ostrom later returned to the 148th which became known as the “Bucking Bronco” regiment from Wyoming.

Since the First World War, the Bucking Horse and Rider has been used as a symbol of pride and a reminder of home in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. It is believed that the horse is meant to represent the legendary rodeo horse “Steamboat”. Steamboat was considered to be the best bucking horse of all-time and carried the title of the “horse that couldn't be ridden”.

The evolution of the symbol goes beyond military uses. In 1935, to combat license plate counterfeiting, Secretary of State Lester Hunt commissioned Littleton, Colorado native Allen T. True to draft his own model for a state plate; this, to no surprise, included the Bucking Horse and Rider. The license plate still carries that symbol on it today. The Bucking Horse and Rider further branded the state when the United States Mint came out with Wyoming’s state quarter in 2007. It was the forty fourth coin released by the Mint in symbolism of Wyoming being the forty fourth state to join the republic on July 10, 1890.

The University of Wyoming also uses the legendary logo on their helmet with the silhouette filled in brown and outlined in gold. The UoW tradition with the logo is almost as old and storied as the United States National Guard’s is. The logo, which the university simply calls “Steamboat”, has been the athletic department’s logo since 1920. The logo and the meaning behind it have become so important to the state and school history that in 1991, to commemorate Steamboat’s 90th birthday, a statue replicating the logo was erected at the entrance of the athletic center; it is titled “Fanning a Twister”.

"Buffalo Bill" William Cody

Buffalo Bill in 1875

Buffalo Bill was the nickname of the famous American Old West figure, William Frederick Cody. Cody was best known for his autobiographies which depict the adventures he had in his life. Many of the stories told are hard to distinguish between reality and fantasy due to the bewilderment of them.

Bill Cody scouting a hostile Native American camp

Bill Cody was born February 26, 1846 near Le Claire, Iowa. He was of Spanish-Irish descent. In 1853, his parents, Isaac Cody and Mary Anne Lealock moved their family of eight children to the Kansas frontier where they operated a small store. The family was against slavery, which was a prominent issue in Kansas and the United States at the time. This caused many problems for them as the pro-slavery group was very outspoken. These men tried to kill Isaac Cody, and ended up wounding him on one attempt. While his father was away on business, William heard of a plot to kill his father and rode out to warn him. This was his first of many adventures that inspired the famous stories of Buffalo Bill. In 1857, Isaac Cody died from a cold. This left William Cody as the oldest male of family at age 11. He left home to seek work. His first employment was as a cattle drover on the westbound wagon trains.

In 1863, after a drunken evening, Cody ended up signing up and became a soldier in the Seventh Kansas Regiment. He performed many services including spying on confederate soldiers as well as scouting for Native Americans.

After his time in the army, Cody worked as a buffalo hunter to provide food for the Kansas Railroad. During his employment Cody earned the nickname Buffalo Bill when over the span of an 18 month period, Cody claimed to have killed 4,280 buffaloes. Cody was known for his hunting skills, and recognized for consistently out-killing all of his fellow buffalo hunters.

Though Cody remained a scout for the American Army for most of his years, he only spent the summers participating in military causes. The rest of the year he would perform shows depicting his military accomplishments.In 1872 he began his performing career by playing himself in a melodrama of frontier life called Scouts of the Prairie. From here his entertaining career exploded as he became a National sensation. In 1872-1873 he formed the Buffalo Bill Combination. The trio consisted of Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and Texas Jack Omohundro, who travelled across America performing their renditions on the American conflicts against Indian Nations. The performances also included displays of skill such as trick shooting, knife throwing and rope tricks. In 1878 Cody began incorporating Show Indians into his performances. The most notable Indian performer was Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull, like most of the participating performers, saw the Wild West Show as an opportunity to make money, to see parts of the world they were otherwise not allowed to visit, and to have a chance to meet high ranking federal officials.

Buffalo Bills Wild West Show - 1890

In 1884 he conceived the concept for a show that would exemplify the days of the Wild West. It demonstrated the lives of the Native Americans and the first settlers, re-imagining the adventures of Cody and his past including buffalo hunting, his journeys over the plains, and other aspects of settling the west. The show grew international popularity, as Cody and The Wild Wild West show traveled across North America and Europe as the exhibitions brought Cody great fame and wealth.

It was in 1894 when Buffalo Bill Cody left his mark on the state of Wyoming. While visiting, Cody found interest in a region close to Yellowstone Park. Cody and a team of business men founded a town, which they named for Buffalo Bill called Cody, Wyoming. The town was perfect for hunting, it had land available for ranches and farming, and possessed a natural beauty. The town was used for irrigation and helped bring a railroad to the county. Cody owned a lot of land in the county and he used this land to create the TE dude ranch.

William Buffalo Bill Cody died on January 10, 1917. A memorial statue and museum was built in Cody, Wyoming to honour his life.

For More Information on the life of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody click this link for a documentary. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMgA1-zCq-U&feature=related

The Sundance Kid

Harry Longabaugh circa 1901

One of the most iconic outlaws of the “Old West” is Harry Alonzo Longabaugh. Also known as the "Sundance Kid”, Longabaugh was born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania in 1867. He was the fifth child in a family of devout Baptists. At the age of thirteen Longabaugh was thrust into the working world, as a hired hand at a local farm. Here he developed his skills as wrangler and grew desire to leave for the West. In 1882, at the age of fifteen, Longabaugh accompanied his cousin out west. Where they would work together to settle a ranch in Durango, Colorado. In 1884, Longabaugh moved to Cortez, Colorado where he found a job wrangling cattle. The drought of 1886 made work scarce, less water equaled fewer cattle, fewer cattle required less labour thus Longabaugh was laid off. Longabaugh crossed the border into Wyoming looking for employment from a local cattle company. Unfortunately the winter of 1886-1887 was particularly harsh causing the cattle population of Wyoming to decrease by fifty percent. Longabaugh was subsequently laid off again. This marked a transition period which would see Longabaugh transform from ordinary citizen to wanted outlaw.

The Hole in the Wall Gang with Harry Longabaugh pictured bottom left, circa 1901

In February of 1887 Longabaugh found himself in Crooks County, Wyoming broke and without a penny to his name, after he traded all his possessions for food. Longabaugh desperate for money, stole a horse, saddle, and revolver from a local cowboy who worked for a powerful cattle company. He was captured on April 12, 1887 in Miles City, Montana where he subsequently escaped while in transit on his way back to Wyoming. Longabaugh was eventually recaptured and by June 22 he found himself back in Crooks County where he would await trial in the Sundance Jail. After several failed attempts at escaping Longabaugh pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eighteen months to be served in the Sundance Jail. Longabaugh’s moniker was born, he was known as the Sundance Kid. Upon his release on February 5th, 1889 Longabaugh increasingly found himself in more trouble with the law. After allegedly threatening a deputy sheriff, the Crook County Sheriff’s department issued a warrant for his arrest, and a short stint living in Alberta, Canada, saw Longabaugh charged with cruelty to animals. By the early 1890’s he was back in Wyoming holding up trains and banks, and in the year 1896 or 1897 the Sundance Kid joined Butch Cassidy's the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. By 1908 the Sundance Kid made his way to Bolivia to escape persecution from the growing arm of the law and as the legend goes the Sundance Kid was killed in a firefight by the Bolivian army and police after committing a robbery of a local silver mine.

In popular memory Longabaugh has been characterized as somewhat of a Robin Hood type character, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. There is however no evidence to support these claims for in reality Longabaugh’s holdups frequently turned violent. In 1969 the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released forever preserving the Sundance Kid’s legacy. In the film the relationship between Cassidy and Longabaugh is highly fictionalized as they are depicted working as partners throughout their careers while in reality Longabaugh joined Cassidy’s gang quite late. Regardless the film helped preserve one of Wyoming’s most prominent outlaws for future generations.

Owen Wister: Father of Western Fiction

Owen Wister the father of Western fiction
The Virginian novel published in 1902

The Western genre has long centered around the conflict between cowboys and Indians, which has impacted entertainment for many years through novels, television, and movies. Cowboys in Western fictions are commonly depicted as a lone-rider on horseback riding across the vast deserts seeking vengeance or justice. These ideas which have revolutionized literature and movies all started with one man, Owen Wister, who was heavily influenced by the time he spent in Wyoming. He is credited for the creation of this classic Western hero and bringing forth this new genre of Western fiction.

Born in Philadelphia in 1860, Wister grew up in a wealthy household which allowed him to study at Harvard and abroad in Europe during his youth. Struggling with poor health, he came close to a nervous breakdown in 1891. Taking advice from his doctor, Wister traveled to Johnson County, Wyoming in hopes of rejuvenating his health. In Johnson County, Wister was exposed to a different kind of life and a new America. He marveled at the open land stretching for miles with so much character. This new lifestyle, culture, and society intrigued him and inspired him as he began to record observations of his travels. These notes contributed to his creation of Western fiction. For 15 years Wister returned to Wyoming and continued to write about his experiences and encounters. His writing career began with his first published work in 1892 called “Hank’s Woman.” Wister got his big break in 1902 with the publication of his most famous piece of work. The Virginian was a historical romance centering around a cowboy on a cattle ranch. It inspired later authors in the Western genre, such as Zane Grey.

Wister wrote about what he witnessed while in Wyoming. He believed the men who inhabited the area, around whom he based the character of cowboys, lived the best life anyone could live under the severe conditions of the West. Wister truly believed in the ideal of the West, because of how it had impacted him in his life. He thought it was a place where individuals could find restoration and self-discovery, and escape the limitations of the East. Wyoming made a lasting impact on Wister which he shared with the rest of the world through his novels.

Wyoming and Hollywood


Wyoming has been a central location in many famous Hollywood films. Through its notable history of cattle ranching, Wyoming has set the stage for many popular movies. The age of Hollywood Westerns flocked to Wyoming for its idealized landscape and notorious image of cowboys and ranching. Cowboy boots and Stetson hats became the stereotype for Wyoming citizens in the eyes of society due to the many movies that were written and filmed around Wyoming. Through Hollywood hits by John Wayne, Charlton Heston and Kenny Rogers, Wyoming was portrayed as a Western state burdened with outlaws, cowboys and vigilantes.

Kenny Rogers preforming in later life.

The 1985 TV movie Wild Horses starring Western singer and icon Kenny Rogers was filmed and set in the Wyoming countryside. The movie recounts the struggle of a man who moves to Wyoming to find work, ultimately resulting in him settling in the countryside and working with wild horses. The movie depicts Wyoming in all its glory, showing the panoramic images of the mountains and grasslands. Wild Horses, and many other Westerns filmed within the state focus solely on the iconic landscapes and ignore the industrialization occurring in Wyoming during the 20th century. Hollywood’s focus on maintaining the image of Wyoming as a newly colonized Western state, lacking in industry and consumerism is no accident and allows the cowboy stereotype of the state to remain prominent in the eyes of society.

However, not all movies based in Wyoming are connected back to their roots of cattle farming. Director Steven Spielberg used Wyoming as a central location is his 1977 sci-fi film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In this movie they used Wyoming’s large expanse of open fields as a theoretical landing spot for extra-terrestrial activity. The movie was received very well by the public and box office and for once portrayed Wyoming in a different light.

The legacy of Wyoming in association with Western film culture is still present in their current society. On November 12, 2012 Wyoming PBS ran a John Wayne film from 1956 entitled The Searchers. The movie received great reviews and was recently ranked as the seventh best movie of all time by British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine.

Perhaps the most popular Hollywood movie to reference Wyoming in recent years, is Ang Lee's production of Brokeback Mountain. The film is an adaptation of a short story also titled Brokeback Mountain written by Wyoming native Annie Proulx, staring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.

Scene from the 1956 hit The Searchers with John Wayne shown in red.

This 2005 Oscar-nominated movie was a breakthrough and a shock throughout Hollywood, as it conveys the budding romantic relationship between two male sheepherders during a summer traveling through the Wyoming countryside. This movie had a shockingly large impact in Wyoming pop culture where homosexuality was unacceptable and virtually unheard of at the time. In the last few years, homosexual scrutiny and issues have plagued Wyoming media and newspapers, where pro-gay advocates are trying to decrease hostility for the gay population. Brokeback Mountain’s popularity helped advance the movement of equality throughout Wyoming.

Scene from the 2005 production based on actual events from 1998

In 1998, a homosexual student at the University of Wyoming, Mathew Sheppard, was murdered. This violent and upsetting murder dominated the media throughout Wyoming and the rest of the world. The murder was deemed as a hate crime, with Mathew being beaten by his assailants in the Wyoming town of Laramie. The issue remained a constant area of discussion in the media due to the controversial issue of homosexuality in the west. This event fueled the play “The Laramie Project”, which became a hit throughout the United States. Starting in New York, the play made its way across the States and finally played in Laramie, Wyoming two years after production started. Since then, The Laramie Project has been preformed in schools around Wyoming to help address the issue of homosexuality and prevent further discrimination and hate crimes.

Wyoming Art


Origin of Art in Wyoming; A Native Perspective

Art in Wyoming dates back to the early native population of the United States. The artwork of early Wyoming is thought to be part of traditional Dinwoody rock art. The first discoveries of these rock formation art works date back to 1870[1], from records kept by shoulders posted on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Legend Rock with the image of a "little boy"

Rock artwork is composed of a collection of painted imagery and engravings on the surface rock. Using radiocarbon dated soil deposits, archaeologists have estimated that these traditional Dinwoody petroglyph forms date back as far as three thousand years ago[2], before there was a formal language and material culture introduced to Wyoming's current native population of Shoshones.

Native rock painting in Wyoming
Wind River Canyon, Wyoming

Art was a form of early communication and a pictorial record of native life. The Dinwoody traditional carvings are only found in the foothills of Wind River Mountains, Wyoming and Bighorn Basin in Central Wyoming. [1] The largest collection of rock art is found in the Legend Rock Petroglyph site located in Hot Springs County, Wyoming.

The traditional rock art is a range of pictorial images reflecting life for native inhabitants including hunting and different gatherings, such as religious and social rituals.[3] For the most part these figures resemble human forms and animals,some of which were powerful spirits encountered during the natives Northern journey. About 75% of the mark making of the native tradition for petroglyphs composed of pecking, stripping and abrading techniques, using dark red and red-brown patina. This type of application of patina created a ghost like resemblance of the figures.

One of the images that have been identified is “Split boy,” which was found in Hot Springs County. The art depicts an ancient mythical figure that is split from the root of one set of feet. The image on the left is an image of “little boy”; however the meaning is unknown.[4] These pieces of art do not only provide a glimpse into the past, they are also a useful primary source detailing the Indians interactions with the land from their perspective. Carving and paintings on rocks were produced by both male and female inhabitants because the native population believed very strongly in the power of the spirit over the power division of the sex.[1] These forms of art were the early beginnings of a cultural identity in Wyoming.

Wyoming Scene Painting

Wyoming’s reputation in the late nineteenth century as the “Cowboy State” reflected in the artistic representation of the state. In particular, the American painter Frederic Remington (1861-1909) aggressively documented his version of the American West", in a collection of works capturing the picturesque landscapes and thriving cattle-boom in Wyoming during a period that spanned from 1868 to 1886.

File:Frederic Remington "The Roundup" 1888.jpeg
Frederic Remington "The Roundup" 1888

With his paintings of the American West, Frederic Remington constructed a romantic and nostalgic visual world that privileged a masculine, white narrative while omitting minority groups’ histories. Remington’s images allude to his identity as a man “hopelessly dislocated from an idealized, sentimentalized pre-industrial time.” His artwork “played a major role in creating the popular image of the West that persists today.” Most of Remington’s paintings do not explicitly refer to the state of Wyoming in their content or title. Arguably, his omission of locations and dates in the titling of his work was intentional; by refusing to reveal the locations depicted in his work, Remington allowed the paintings to be “transmuted ideologically into the American West itself.” Consequently, Remington’s paintings do not reveal their locations and cannot be definitively linked to specific geographic locations in Wyoming. However, his idyllic, generalized portrayal of the American West constructed and preserved archetypes of the state that persist to this day in the public’s visual lexicon of Wyoming’s history. Remington’s studio has been reconstructed at Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill Historical Center, a testament to his lasting influence on visual culture in Wyoming and the importance of his vision in shaping a visual narrative of Wyoming during the cattle-boom.

File:Frederic Remington painting in Wyoming.png
The artist painting in Wyoming

Remington’s scenes of the west were defined the promoters of “masculinity, struggle, and depictions of men and horses,” as a theme and within this limited framework he omitted and manipulated his representations of native people and women to suit his perception of the past. In his paintings, native subjects adhered to common white misconceptions of natives; his images skewed reality and portrayed native subjects as savage characters, uncivilized and violent enemies who threatened white prosperity in the west. In his examination of Remington’s paintings, Peter Hassrick has argued that with his the stereotypical portrayals of natives, the artist romanticized their identity within American history, memorializing them as “mythic and thus less real.” Critics of Remington have labeled his work as exhibiting a “maudlin, uncritical sentiment for days gone by,” a conservative and traditional man longing to recreate his rose-coloured, white-centric view of the past. Hassrick summarizes his criticism of the world view promulgated by Remington in his paintings as a “metaphorical statement for the intrusion of an industrialized East of a basically defenseless and doomed West.” By choosing to dramatize Wyoming’s past through the lens of manifest destiny, Remington denies us an opportunity to construct an art historical narrative of the state’s past through any other lens but his own.

Modern Painting Origins in Wyoming

Wyoming is not only the home to traditional art and the discovery of Dinwoody rock art, but it is the birthplace of a prominent modern artist. On January 28th, 1912, Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming to Roy and Stella Pollock. To the family Paul was known as Jack. The Pollock family remained in Cody for ten months after Jackson was born, they then moved to San Diego, California.[5]

Jackson Pollock Signature

When Jackson was older, he moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League of New York. Jackson emerged in New York as an elite avant-guard artist in the Abstract Expressionism movement, introducing drip painting technique. Instead of painting in an upright position, Jackson laid his canvas on the floor of his studio.[6] He stood over the canvas moving his arm across the canvas; Jackson’s movement was captured on the canvas as a series of drips. Along with a new technique Jackson also used unconventional material. His paint was resin based enamels and he often used sticks to transfer paint to the canvas. Some of his pieces even had remains of cigarettes often mixed into his paintings. In 1945, Jackson married Lee Krasner, but the pair never had children. Throughout his life Jackson struggled with alcoholism. The couple moved to the East Hampton area of Long Island, New York in hopes that the new location would help with Jackson’s struggle. On August 11, 1956, Jackson died in an alcohol related car crash.[6]


Jackson my have only lived temporally in Wyoming but his roots remained with him, he was of course the "cowboy" painter in New York, many colleagues noted he would walk the streets of New York in his beloved cowboy boots.

Another well-known Abstract artist and sculptor from Wyoming is Peter Forakis. Forakis was born in Hanna, Wyoming in September, 1927 to a family of Greek immigrants. At the age of 10 the family moved to California. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California School of Fine Arts and moved to New York City to practice art. While in New York, he founded the Park Place, a cooperative art space in 1960 unfortunately the park had to closed in 1967. During his time in New York City, Forakis became a well known influential abstract sculptor, as his works were crafted using large sections of metals, arranged in geometric patterns. Abstraction for Forakis weighed heavily on mathematical principles superimposed on the natural world. Some of his most well known pieces include Hyper Cube in 1967, Tower of the Cheyenne in 1972 and Archimedes Cube which was a series from 1968. He moved back to California in 1979 and remained there until his death on November 26, 2009.



Further Reading



  1. Badertscher, Eric, "Our States: Wyoming". Volume 32, Issue 3. September 2011, available from http//:www.ebscohost.com
  2. Bishop, Ronald. “How Two Wyoming Community Newspapers Covered the Construction of the Heart Mountain Internment Camp”. Little More Than Minutes vol 26. Issue 3. 2009.
  3. Boyd, Robert. “Sin in the sagebrush: creating an exhibit for the high desert museum.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 112 (2011): 486.
  4. Brings Plenty, Carla Rae. “Buffalo nation: Saving the last wild buffalo herd in Yellowstone.” Indian Country Today, August 10, 1998. https://www.proquest.com/docview/362712503
  5. "Buffalo Bill's America: William Cody and the Wild West Show." Publishers Weekly 252, no. 30 (August 1, 2005)
  6. Carlton, Jim, “Wyoming Tourism-Related Businesses Ask Bush to Halt Area Drilling Plans,” Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2011, https://www.proquest.com/docview/398818527.
  7. Castle Freeman Jr. "Owen Wister Brief life of a Western mythmaker: 1860-1938." Harvard Magazine (202): 42-43. Accessed October 25, 2012. http://harvardmagazine.com/2002/07/owen-wister.html
  8. Chambers Noble, Ann, Sublette County, Wyoming (Wyoming State Historical Society: Encyclopedia, December 10, 2011).
  9. Davis, John W. “The Johnson County War: 1892 Invasion of Northern Wyoming.” Accessed October 24th 2012. http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/johnson-county-war.
  10. Everest-Phillips, Max. "The Pre-War Fear of Japanese Espionage: Its Impact and Legacy." Journal of Contemporary History, 2007: 243-265.
  11. Fowler, Loretta. “An Experiment in Cultural Change and Economic Development”. The Arapahoe Ranch. City College of the city of New York. 1973
  12. Gersie, Joseph and Eileen Peterson. “Evaluation of Coal Resources on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming”. Wyoming State Geological Survey.
  13. Gilbert, Bill. “Old Faithful: Yellowstone at 125” Life 20, no. 7 (1997): 64.
  14. Hodge, Adam R. "Pestilence and Power: The Smallpox Epidemic of 1780-1782 and Intertribal Relations on the Northern Great Plains". The Historian (2010). Phi Alpha Theta. pp. 1-25.
  15. Jacobs, Andria. “Wolf Policy in the West.” Conflict Research Consortium Working Paper, University of Colorado, 1994. http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/full_text_search/AllCRCDocs/94-65.htm.
  16. James Thor, “Realities of Rodeo,” The Lancet 362, no. 1 (2003):
  17. Lamont, V. “More than she deserves: Woman suffrage memorials in the ‘equality state’. Canadian Review of American Studies36:1 (2006), 17-43.
  18. Lanpher, Henry Coe. "The Civilian Conservation Corps: Some Aspects of Its Social Program for Unemployed Youth." Social Service Review 10, no. 4 (December 1936): 623-36.
  19. Larson, Robert W., “Part 1: Red Cloud: The Warrior Years,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 47 (1997): 30.
  20. Layser, E.E. “The equality state: Women’s rights on the western frontier” The World and I, 18:3(March 2003), 184-222.
  21. Lieutenant General Sherman, William T. et al., “Articles of a Treaty Made and Concluded by and Between…” 1868, http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=42&page=transcript.
  22. Ling, Pamela M., Haber, Lawrence A., Wedl, Stefani, “Branding the Rodeo: A Case Study of Tobacco Sports Sponsorship,” American Journal of Public Health 100, no. 1:
  23. Mann, Nikki. "The Big Bang that didn't happen." Pinedale Roundup, November 30, 2006, p. 13.
  24. Martin, W B., and Jack Shaughnessy. "Project Wagon Wheel." Wyoming Geological Association Guidebook (1969): 145 -152.
  25. McFerrin, Randy. “High Noon on the Western Range: A Property Rights Analysis of the Johnson County War” The Journal of Economic History 67 (2007): 67-93.
  26. Moore, John H. "Cheyenne Political History, 1820-1894." Ethnohistory 21, no. 4 (Fall 1974): 329-59.
  27. Muskovac, Nick. “Yellowstone National Park” PSA Journal 75.3 (March 2009).
  28. Noble, Antonette C. "Masaye Nakamura's Personal Story." OAH Magazine of History, 2002: 37-40.
  29. Noggle, Burl. “The Origins of the Teapot Dome Investigation.” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 44 (1957): 237-266.
  30. Olivey, Harold. "Cowboys and Cowgirls of Wyoming". Volume 26, Issue 2. April 2004, available from http//:www.ebscohost.com
  31. Ostland, Emilene, “The Powder River Basin: A Natural History,” last modified January 1, 2012, http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/powder-river-basin-natural-history.
  32. Ostland, Emilene, “Red Cloud's War,” last modified February 1, 2012, http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/red-clouds-war.
  33. Rea, Tom, “Gathering the Tribes: The Cheyennes Come Together after Sand Creek,” last modified October 12, 2011, http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/gathering-tribes-cheyennes-come-together-after-sand-creek.
  34. Rea, Tom. “Road to Rendezvous: The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade in 1834.” Last modified December 10th, 2011. http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/road-rendezvous-rocky-mountain-fur-trade-1834.
  35. Rich, Ruby B. “Brokering Brokeback: Jokes, Backlashes, and Other Anxieties.” Film Quarterly. Vol. 60 No. 3 (2007): 44-48
  36. Schwarz, Frederick. “Seventy-five Years Ago The Teapot Starts to Boil.” American Heritage 48, no. 2 (n.d.): 105
  37. Smallbone, Chris. "How the West was lost: Chris Smallbone explains the effect of United States expansion on the native Americans of the Great Plains in the mid-19th century." History Today 56.4 (2006): 42+. Academic OneFile. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.
  38. Stanley, Samuel. “The Cheyenne Club: An oasis of urban luxury in nineteenth-century Wyoming.” History Today 29 (1979): 471-478.
  39. Tamura, Eileen. “Heart Mountain: Life in Wyoming’s Concentration Camp”. Journal of American Ethnic History. 2001
  40. Taylor, David T.; Fletcher, Robert R., “A comparison of characteristics, regional expenditures, and economic impact of visitors to...,” Journal of Travel Research 32, no. 1 (1993): 30, (accessed October 31, 2012), EBSCOhost.
  41. Taylor, M. Scott. “Buffalo Hunt: International Trade and the Virtual Extinction of the North American Bison.” American Economic Review, no. 101 (2011): 3162–3195.
  42. "Teapot Dome Casts a Broad Shadow." New York Times, January 27, 1924.
  43. "Teapot Dome Seethes with New Scandal." New York Times, December 24, 1924.
  44. Toman, J, and H A. Tewes. Project Rio Blanco Phase 1 Technical Studies. Livermore, CA: Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, 1972.
  45. Uysal, Muzaffer; Fesenmaier, Daniel R.; O’Leary,Joseph T., “Geographic and Seasonal Variation in the Concentration of Travel in the United States,” Journal of Travel Research 32, no. 3 (1994): 61, October 31, 2012,
  46. “Visiting Jackson, Wyoming.” Risk Management 55, 9 (2008): 63. 28 Oct 2012.
  47. Williams,Timothy "Brutal Crimes Grip Indian Reservation". The New York Times, February 2nd 2012.
  48. Wischmann, Lesley. "Separate Lands for Separate Tribes: The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851." Wyohistory. Accessed November 1, 2012. http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/horse-creek-treaty.
  49. “Wyoming Oil Now in Standard’s Hands.” New York Times (January 3, 1921): 12.



  1. Bancroft, Hubert. History of Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming (San Francisco:History co, 1992)
  2. Bartlett, I.S. History of Wyoming v.3. Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918.
  3. Cooper, Frederic T. Some American Story Tellers. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911). 267.
  4. Ellwood, David. “The Movies as History: Visions of the Twentieth Century.” England: Sutton Press (2000).
  5. Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: the Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1975.
  6. Grinnell, George. The Cheyenne Indians. South Korea: World Wisdom, 2008.
  7. Herbert, Grace. The Government of Wyoming: the History, constitution, and administrative affairs (San Francisco: The Whitaker and Ray Company Incorporated, 1990)
  8. Hunt, Lester C. Wyoming Writer’s Project. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.
  9. Jameson, W.C. Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave. United Kingdom: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2012.
  10. Jordan-Bychkov, Terry. “North American Cattle-Ranching Frontiers: Origins, Diffusion and Differentiation.” Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press (1993).
  11. Knappman, Elizabeth and Kathryn DuPont. Women’s Suffrage in America. New York: Facts on File, 1992.
  12. Knobloch, Frieda. Creating the Cowboy State: Culture and Underdevelopment in Wyoming since 1867. The Western Historical Quarterly 32.2 (2001): 201-221.
  13. Larson, T.A. History of Wyoming. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965.
  14. Lawrence, Elizabeth Atwood. Rodeo: An Anthropologist looks at the Wild and the Tame. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982.
  15. Mead, Rebecca J. How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914. New York: New York University Press, 2004.
  16. Meagher, Margaret Mary. “The Bison of Yellowstone National Park.” National Park Service Scientific Monograph Series, no. 1 (1973).
  17. Meter, Larry A. Women Win the Vote: the Hard-Fought Battle for Women’s Suffrage. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, 2009.
  18. Miles, John. Guardian of the Parks: A History of the National Parks and Conservation Association. Chicago: Taylor & Francis Group, 1995.
  19. Moses, L.G. "Wild West Shows and the Image of American Indians" 1883-1933 (New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1996).
  20. National Parks and Conservation Association. Interpretation: Key to the Park Experience. Washington: National Parks and Conservation Association: 1988
  21. National Parks and Conservation Association. The National Park Service: Its Organization and Employees. Washington: National Parks and Conservation Association: 1988.
  22. Newhall, Nancy. Adams, Ansel. The Tetons and the Yellowstone. 5 Associates, Redwood City, CA. 1970
  23. Niethammer, Carolyn. Daughters of the Earth. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1977.
  24. Noggle, Burl. Teapot Dome: Oil and Politics in the 1920’s. Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1962.
  25. Oil Land Leasing Act of 1920: with amendments and other laws relating to mineral lands. Washington: U.S. G.P.O. 1968.
  26. Overton, Richard C., Burlington West (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1941).
  27. Overton, Richard C., Burlington Route (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965).
  28. Patterson, Richard. Butch Cassidy: A Biography. United States: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  29. Peterson, Judy Monroe. The Nineteenth Amendment: Women’s Right to Vote. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, 1998.
  30. Rollins, George. The Struggle of the Cattleman, Sheepman and Settler for Control of Lands in Wyoming, 1867-1910. New York: New York Times Company, 1979.
  31. Rydell, Kiki Leigh, and Mary Shivers Culpin. Managing the "Matchless Wonders": A History of Administrative Development in Yellowstone National Park, 1872-1965. Yellowstone National Park, WY: National Park Service, Yellowstone Centre for Resources, 2003.
  32. Saylor, David. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, In the Shadow of the Tetons. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman, Oklahoma. 1970
  33. Shaughnessy, Jack, and R H. Butcher. "Geology of Project Wagon Wheel Nuclear Stimulation Project." Four Corners Geological Society Memoir Book (1972): 185-196.
  34. Smith, Duane. Rocky Mountains West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.
  35. Sneider, Allison L. Suffragists in an Imperial Age: U.S. Expansion and the Woman Question, 1870-1929. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  36. Stanton, Elizabeth., Anthony, Susan., and Gage, Matilta. History of Woman Suffrage. New York: Arno and The New York Times, 1969.
  37. Thorburn, Ryan. "Black 14:The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football" New York: Burning Daylight, 2009.
  38. Woods, Lawrence M. The Wyoming Country Before Statehood. Worland: Worland Press, 1971.
  39. Wyoming Writer’s Project. Wyoming: A Guide to its History, Highways, and People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.



  1. Bagley, Will. "South Pass." WyoHistory.org. N.p., 2010. Web. 01 Nov. 2012. http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/south-pass?page=show.
  2. Buffalo Bill Historical Centre. "Documenting the life and times of an American icon." The William F. Cody Archive. Accessed October 28, 2012.http://codyarchive.org/life/wfc.bio. 00002.html.
  3. “The Burlington Route: Wyoming’s Second Transcontinental Railroad,” Gregory Nickerson, Wyoming Historical Society, Accessed October 18th, 2012, http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/burlington-route-wyoming’s-second-transcontinental-railroad.
  4. Houze, Lynn Johnson. WyoHistory.org | The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History. June 23, 2012. http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/park-county-wyoming?page=3 (accessed November 1, 2012).
  5. Google. “Wyoming PBS: Hollywood Theatre.” Last modified November 3, 2012. http://www.wyoptv.org/programming/viewprogram.php?id=3563&aid=6000.
  6. Gourley, Bruce. “Yellowstone History”. http://yellowstone.net/history/
  7. Massey, Garth M. "Making Sense of Work on the Wind River Indian Reservation." American Indian Quarterly 28, no. 3 (Fall 2004
  8. Murphy, Warren. "The Reverend John Roberts, Missionary to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes." Wyoming State Historical Society. http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/reverend-john-roberts
  9. National Park Service. “Yellowstone Bison.” Yellowstone National Park. Last modified October 18, 2012. http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/bison.htm.
  10. National Park Service. “Wolf Restoration.” Yellowstone National Park. Last modified October 18, 2012. http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/wolfrest.htm.
  11. Noble, Ann C. "The Wagon Wheel Project ." Wyoming Historical Society. http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/wagon-wheel-project.
  12. Roberts, Phil. “The Teapot Dome Scandal,” wyohistory, accessed October 29, 2012, http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/teapit-dome-scandal.
  13. State of Wyoming. "The Old West Continues." Welcome to the State of Wyoming. Last modified 2012. http://www.wyoming.gov/history.aspx.
  14. Western, Samuel. “The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920: The Law that Changed Wyoming’s Economic Destiny.” 2012. http://www.wyohistory.org/print/essays/mineral-leasing-act-1920 (accessed October 31, 2012)
  15. "William F. 'Buffalo Bill' Cody." Buffalo Bill Historical Centre. http://www.bbhc.org/explore/buffalo-bill/research/buffalo-bill/.
  16. Wischmann, Lesley. “Separate lands for separate tribes: The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851.” WyoHistory.org (2010): 1-3. Accessed Sunday October 28th 2012 http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/horse-creek-treaty
  17. “Wyoming’s e-Government Site,” Wyoming State Library, State of Wyoming 2012. www-wyoming.gov
  18. Wyoming Office of Tourism, 2012 (accessed October 30, 2012), www.wyomingtourism.org
  19. Wyoming State Historical Society. "Owen Wister: Inventor of the Good-guy Cowboy." Accessed October 25, 2012. http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/owen-wister.
  20. Wyoming State Historical Society. "Johnson County, Wyoming." Accessed October 25, 2012. http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/johnson-county-wyoming?page=3.
  21. Wyoming Tourism Board, "Wind River Reservation". www.wyomingtourism.org/travelguide/detail/wind-river-reservation/31500.